Obama and leadership
Will Barack Obama follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter and be a one-term disaster?
The economy should be in President Obama’s favor in 33 months. However, the President is going to have to become a leader if he is to take advantage of a buoyant economy and declining unemployment rates.
Prior to his becoming president, there was no indication from his short political career that he really was a leader; someone who could clearly spell out his position and make the tough decisions. Since he has been president, his behavior does not appear to have changed.
Let’s consider the five major policy areas which have dominated his presidency thus far. He introduced a major stimulus program to get the economy back on track. But he outsourced most of the details of this initiative. Other than the cash for clunkers, it is difficult to point to one or two major programs which were part of this package. I do not believe that the stimulus package will end up doing much to fill the infrastructure gap in the United States. It is not surprising therefore that many Americans do not see the value of this program and are concerned about its only apparent legacy – massive deficits for a decade or more.
Obama also outsourced healthcare reform to Congress. He never did set out his two or three principal objectives and the programs necessary to achieve them. Accessibility, mobility, cost containment, and socializing the costs of catastrophic illness should have been the obvious goals. And the initiatives required to achieve each of these goals should have been rather straightforward to craft.
Instead, Congress has made a circus of healthcare reform, producing an idiotic 2,000 plus page document that emphasizes everything that is wrong with the congressional system of government and made the electorate even more cynical about government. Obama did not take the lead and force Congress to produce what he should have wanted.
On the energy front, while there is much talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020 and introducing a cap and trade system, there will be no bill coming out of Congress. Here too Obama outsourced the policy.
A carbon tax is viewed as the third rail of politics. But Obama could have explained to the American public that in the absence of a carbon tax, the U.S. will continue to be at the whims of the oil producing countries and speculators in oil. As well, ongoing large trade deficits would continue to make the U.S. economy and financial system vulnerable to the machinations of the Government of China. And oil revenues are a major source of financing for terrorist activities worldwide (drugs are the other major source), so U.S. soldiers would continue to put their lives on the line because Americans are too selfish to make a modest sacrifice.
He never made this speech. Worse, he never fought for carbon taxes.
In foreign affairs his desire to befriend everyone and to compromise has made the U.S. look very weak. At times, he has embarrassed Americans. He should have stated clearly the U.S.’s strategic interests and followed through with the initiatives required to achieve them. He did not want to look like his predecessor. But the Chinese have been able to get away with this behavior and no one compares the Chinese leadership to former President Bush. Strength and consistency matter in foreign affairs. Groveling only creates more serious problems.
Finally, until last week, Obama had outsourced to Congress reform of the financial system. With most members of Congress beholden to financial institutions for money, what did Obama expect Congress to produce other than 1,500 pages of garbage.
Now that Obama has set out his objectives and policy initiatives for reforming the financial system, will he become a leader and fight for his policies and ideas? He is on the right track with his proposed reforms. But does he have it in him to get the American public on his side and embarrass Congress into crafting a bill based solely on his policies? His legacy hangs in the balance.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.