The 'Teachable' Moment and the Cost of Leadership

He’s professorial and erudite, energetic and rhetorically gifted. Yet this former freshman senator from the ‘Land of Lincoln’ is bereft of the one real characteristic that matters most - Leadership.

It’s been said that leadership is revealed in the face of adversity. And no casual observer would argue that since December of 2007, times have been bad - really bad. Looking back to the founding of our Republic, adversity and challenge is what we ate for breakfast. Thus, below, you will see a litany of examples as to what it means to be a leader before the “Breakfast of Champions” was invented.

George Washington, our first president, was a true commander-in-chief. While strategizing and leading a war against the British crown, a French king and powerful Indian tribes, Mr. Washington also had to oversee the Continental Congress.

Lincoln, during the tumultuous 1860's, had a little tussle of his own - the Civil War. Able to "chew gum and lead at the same time," Honest Abe masterfully navigated issues of States' Rights and a little problem called slavery. He effectively steered the nation away from secession, but not before he would be assassinated for his patriotism.

Mired in a "Red Scare," civil unrest and an impending war in Southeast Asia, Kennedy and LBJ would forge ahead and pass a myriad of historical civil rights laws, irregardless of their popularity and irrespective of their own peril.

Today, entangled in two Middle-East wars, another war against terrorists, and an economy slowly recovering from stage-three cancer, the American spirit is, well, dispirited. Private and public-sector economists, at least on paper, claim that the recession is over. But the rest of us know better. This is the environment Barack Obama finds himself in.

The president's report card on leadership reads like this:

It doesn't always take a national crisis or watershed moment for a president to display unwavering leadership. Sometimes, the so-called small potato stuff matters. Take the 2009 Super bowl, for example, where Mr. Obama professed his allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals. Clearly - this is not the most important matter, but it is to the many sponsors, fans and others across America. By the way, Obama did not learn from last years' slight and thus doubled-down this year by choosing the Saints over the Colts.

A harbinger of things to come, the president would expand his less-than-presidential behavior and impugn an entire town and police force, stating, "[t]he Cambridge police acted stupidly." Remarkably, this comment came less than twenty-four hours after the incident in question happened; this comment came minutes before a national speech on health care reform; and, this comment came in the form of a defense of "a good friend of mine," referring to Henry Louis Gates, Jr, for whom the public scalding was dedicated to.

Next came the infamous "Beer Summit.' Really? A Beer Summit? Even as jobs were disappearing at a 750,000 per month clip and the Afghanistan question lingered, the president found time to deflect blame from his incendiary remarks and make the entire issue about officerJames Crowley's covert profiling of a black professor. Forget the fact that Sergeant Crowley had an exemplary record on race relations and even trained other law-enforcement people on how NOT to profile citizens.

Blame, of course, is antithetical to leadership; blame and finger pointing is something found more often in local government state houses than in the Oval Office. Mr. Obama's aversion to leadership began to develop steam when he gave bankers, and the rest of us, a talkin' to during one of his countless speeches. To wit, he played the angry Populist and dressed down all of the "Fat-Cat bankers" for reckless investment engineering and for doling out millions in bonuses for themselves and their Wall Street co-conspirators. But, like the Super bowl slight and the Cambridge police debacle, Barack Obama put Corporate America on notice, ostensibly telling all who was willing to listen, that going to Las Vegas for a fancy convention was somehow immoral.

Obama's admonition quickly spread to the entire business community; soon thereafter, other businesses, not even in the banking industry, were drafting memoranda explaining to all employees that business travel, and non-essential meetings in four-star hotels, was unacceptable. I wonder if Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Andy Stern took Mr. Obama aside to tell him to 'zip it?' Stern has had over thirty visits to the White House, the most of any individual. After all, Stern's SEIU represents most of the service employees who work at hotels, casinos and convention centers where the average hourly wage is around $9 per hour.

President Obama has been hyper-focused on Health Care when he promised jobs and the economy was his number one priority. Obama spent all of 2009 focusing on everything but jobs. He promised jobs in his inaugural speech; during his SOTU speech, jobs were finally the marquee item. Yet, since then, and each time he has traveled across the country to places like Elyria, Ohio, Tampa, Florida, Nashua, New Hampshire and Henderson, Nevada - he boomerangs back to health care.

Perhaps the crown jewel of lost 'leadership moments' came during 2009 with the health care reform debate. The president made over one-hundred speeches waxing the virtues of HCR; yet, according to numerous Rasmussen polls, the people weren't convinced it was the right plan for the country. It was too big. It was too expensive and esoteric - worse - there was nary a Republican invited to caucus with congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and Harry Reid, Senate Majority leader. The president had an opportunity to sit down behind closed doors with the Minority leadership in Congress, along with the Democrats, and demand, vituperatively, to get the legislation moving forthwith. Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were forced into similar tactics during their respective presidencies and did quite well.

Reagan boldly delivered American Exceptionalism and leadership during the Cold War. Moreover, he specifically called out Gorbachev in June of 1987 during his famous Brandenburg Gate speech:

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Reagan's speech was not demagoguery - it was pure, unmitigated leadership.

In contrast, Obama toured Western Europe, Asia and the Middle-East during the summer and all but apologized for our country. While the president tried to sweet-talk Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and be the anti-Bush president, Ahmadinejad meanwhile was secretly supplying IEDs to insurgents in Iraq and sending cargo ships full of katyusha rockets to Hezbollah and Hamas near Israel. Likewise, as the U.S. retreated on the use of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) as a hedge against Iran and Russia, Vladimir Putin was dealing with China to supply uranium fuel cell technology to Tehran. Playing nice with state-sponsored terrorists only emboldens Iran, North Korea and others, and presents the U.S. as naive and weak to the rest of the world.

And since when does Al Qaeda really care about what's going on at Guantanamo Bay or if we 'Mirandize' one of their own?

Too often president Obama perfunctorily dismisses Republican ideas. Similarly, the main stream media have labeled the GOP in the Senate as the "party of no." Such labels are good sound bites on MSNBC or CNN. Yet such labels and sound bites hide the inimical approach Obama and Congress has towards the Republicans. Democratic memories are short when one harkens back on Bill Clinton's administration after the GOP blowout of 1994. Somehow Clinton, and then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, managed to compromise on a watershed Welfare Reform Act bill, even though the GOP held the majority in Congress and Clinton the executive branch.

You see, Clinton and Gingrich did not point fingers and blame the 'other' Bush who came before them. No, they rolled up their sleeves in a bipartisan fashion, in the wake of the 'Contract with America,' and led. They created budget surpluses that were so bountiful, Iowa corn farmers were jealous.

Leadership is completely separate from the economy, separate from passing bills and making Nobel Peace Prized speeches; leadership is about navigation, dialogue and statesmanship. Advisers like Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod can lead you to the well, but you Mr. president, must choose to drink or not.

Posted by Kevin L. Lagola at February 23, 2010 11:39 PM
Comment #296182

Kevin, all very ideologically and partisanly correct.

You left a few leadership initiatives out, however.

Stimulus Bill rescued the nation from the Great Recession begun on GW Bush. Economy is growing again. Last year at this time America was losing 3/4 million jobs per month. Today there are no net losses in jobs, which means jobs have been created. In my state of Texas alone, 2.1 billion dollars of stimulus money has saved or given jobs to Texans on road and highway improvement projects, one of which has been underway for six months at the entrance to our home.

And I wouldn’t dream of asking you Kevin to take my word for it.

Judging Stimulus by Job Data Reveals Success. NY Times, this month.

Latest CBO estimate on effects of the Stimulus I bill. [PDF}

And, Macroeconomic Advisers, a prominent private-sector forecasting firm said last Friday about the progress of Stimulus Legislation: “the definitive answer: it works”.

I do have to ask however, if your article is relying on ideological entertainers for the partisan spin. You don’t go to a plumber for heart surgery, do you?

I have provided you with independent economists assessments. Obama led this Stimulus bill effort. These resources assessing its benefits are far more accurate and reliable than entertainers and ideologues. And the Stimulus Bill which Republicans voted against, is saving American jobs and livelihoods. That is leadership in a time of crisis, Kevin, and on the really important stuff.

The Health Care Reform is the biggest long term challenge facing America. Leadership is tackling the challenge. Leadership is finding solutions that BOTH address current and long term needs, which Obama’s 4 principles for reform address.

And unlike Republicans who lead by borrowing from the future to hand tax dollars to their wealthy contributors not once, but 3 times under Bush, USING THE RECONCILIATION process to bypass a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, Obama’s Health Care reform is paid for as it goes, and not added to the deficits and debt for our children to bear. The Republicans Rx Drug plan was entirely added to the national debt and real windfall for their Pharmaceutical corporation campaign donors. Republicans to this day are voting AGAINST pay as you go. That’s not leadership.

So, by all means, nit-pik all you wish for political partisan retribution for your Party’s having been resoundingly removed from power by the majority of Americans. Your freedom of speech is safe with Pres. Obama. He won’t be illegally wiretapping your phone either, for being critical of him, and he won’t allude to your being unAmerican for being critical of our nation’s president.

He is after all, a leader who respects the Constitution and rule of law, not like the last president; what’s his name? You know, that Republican who nobody wants to remember anymore for everything that went wrong during his 8 years.

Republican’s idea of leadership is to bite the hand that feeds them. Vote against the Stimulus bill and then take Stimulus Money home and brag about what great things they are doing for their constituents. Ya, that’s some kind of leadership.

The majority of Independents and Democrats, which is a large majority of the American public, want the Public Option for health care reform. What did Republican leaders in Congress do? Demagogue it to death in the House and Senate. The people do vote and denying them is not the way to secure their votes.

Leadership is about leading others toward progress. Republican leadership is about halting progress, except for token measures which would get them hung in effigy if they at least 5 in the Senate didn’t vote for it, like just happened with the Jobs Bill. Those 5 Republicans can now be technically correct in calling themselves bi-partisan (on rare occasion). They must be up for reelection, for having not bit the voter’s hands on this one.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2010 6:21 AM
Comment #296187

It’s interesting that you site Reagan’s moment at the Brandenburg as exemplifying leadership.

First, in Mirandizing our suspects, whether we’re talking that guy we just plea bargained or the Undabomber, we haven’t seemed to lose out on intelligence. So there Obama resisted the temptation to cave in to those who thought more violent, more cruel means could secure our country, and insisted on them. That’s leadership.

Second, the Stimulus has proven an unequivocal good, creating growth, helping rescue us from a Depression.

Third, the Beer Summit was Obama’s way of defusing the situation. He might have continued to demagogue on the issue, exploited the division and race-baited the issue, but he didn’t. Even his original comment was merely common sense: a man should not be arrested for trying to break into his own home, and no person of a minority race should have to suffer an indignity his white peers would not have to. The law should see us as equals.

Your unfortunate definition of leadership seems to be whatever Obama’s not doing. This seems to be the flip side of your definition of leadership under Bush, as he lead our country, your party, and our economy to the brink of ruin. I just have to wonder, with leadership like that of your party, what rational cause do your people have to come back to your party for its leadership?

Americans should choose not merely those whose leadership charms folks easily, but those whose leadership qualities lead them to confront the tough issues even when they aren’t easy.

Bush never confronted the tough issues, almost always catered to voters and threw bones to his base. He never willingly allowed himself to take a popularity hit to do the right thing.

But not doing the right thing eventually destroyed his reputation, and that of his party.

You talk of leadership, but all your party does these days is drag behind us like an anchor. I got news for you, folks: Anchors don’t lead, they follow whatever course the ship follows and tries to stop it, no matter what the value of that change of course.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 24, 2010 8:12 AM
Comment #296188

Kevin L.
Nice to hear a new voice,especially one that can put words together,albeit,misguided.Out side of the partisan blah,blah,(the beer summit? Isn’t silly season over yet),you have a point. It is time for BHO to step up to the plate. It might help if there were not so many spectaters rooting their throats out for failure. This is especially ,to put it politely,unbecomming when there are brave soldiers following his orders in a major offensive.He does need to start showing leadership and push through major health insurance and banking reform. It looks like he is doing so. Careful what you wish for.
Certainly when and if the Republicans come up with any ideas that actually make sense they should be incorporated. Until that time I do not like to think of them as the party of,”NO” but rather the party of,”..look,you know,I was,uh,yea…”as uttered by Mike Pence(R-Ind),third ranking Rep house member,when asked on Hardball, exactly what measures the Republicans could compromise with the administration regarding health care.There,my little partisan jab.

Posted by: bills at February 24, 2010 8:33 AM
Comment #296189

One year into office and being compared to Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, LBJ and Reagan. Has any other modern day president fared as well. As I remember it, GWB was being compared to Rutherford B Hayes and Franklin Pierce. Doesn’t that say it all?

Posted by: j2t2 at February 24, 2010 8:40 AM
Comment #296191

The reality is that whomever is in the WH, I would want he or she to do well (Dem/Ind/Rep), notwithstanding. It’s funny, but in hindsight, I think Hillary R. Clinton (can’t believe I said it) would’ve provided much more savvy leadership in general than Obama.

All things being equal, and economic disasters aside, BO’s administration, along with his enormous majority, should’ve accomplished a lot more. I’m just sayin’

2010 will be the most challenging for Obama, to be sure. It will be interesting to see if the GOP somehow gets a majority in Congress (a long way to go), and if Obama will do what Clinton had to do in ‘94. Aside from alienating the Progressives and hard lefties, the years 1992 - 2000 were pretty sweet.

Obama’s been nuturing HCR for 13 months now. He’s like a pit bull at a Michael Vick backyard party. I can’t wait to see if he’ll give the Republicans anything tomorrow at the televised HC Summit.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 24, 2010 9:05 AM
Comment #296192

Kevin said: “All things being equal, and economic disasters aside,”

Well, there’s the thing, isn’t it. All other things are not equal, and the economic disaster did happen prior to Obama’s taking office. Leadership is dealing with the realities on their watch, effectively, and within the legal and ethical boundaries of one’s office. Something Bush and Cheney appear never to have even been aware of, let alone abide by.

Pres. Obama has governed against the ideological positions of his own party and those of your Party, ushering forth pragmatic solutions. That, in my book, makes him the quintessentially best person for the job at this time in our history.

Whether Congress will match him in pragmatism has been the question still inadequately answered. The 5 Republicans voting with Obama and Democrats on the Jobs bill this last week, for whatever reasons, was the correct thing to do for the 15 to 20 million Americans in need of a job.

Obama has made some mistakes, and has admitted this in public. Every new president will. There is no other job on the planet as demanding or complex as Pres. of the U.S., to prepare one for a seamless entry. But, he has a dedication to finding pragmatic solutions, extraordinary intelligence, and the patience of JOB to see this country through these trials. That much he has already demonstrated.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2010 9:40 AM
Comment #296194

The Republicans did not support the all to small jobs bill. Only 5 did and all 5 are from blue states. I suspect they were directed too. That way Big Mac can go on TV and claim that the Reps are not in lockstep,yada yada.Maybe the talk of changing Senate rules has them concerned.

I too have wondered if maybe Hillary C. might have been a better choice. Certainly she would not have been surprised at the lies and distortions,and outright hatred spread by the right’s propaganda machine after the disgusting treatment her and her family recieved at their hands.
What one must remember about the Clinton administration,or the first one anyway, was that he wisely got the main thrust,his economic plan, through in the first year. It slightly raised taxes on the upper brackets, took advantage of the ending of the “Cold War” and made cuts to military spending and several other moves to increase revenue and and cut cost. He also put in place large investments in research etc. This passed through congress without a single Republican vote. His plan resulted in a budget surplus and an economic boom the likes of which we will are unlikely to see for a long time and it was no accident. Him and his advisors knew that they had to get a handle on the deficit to keep burgening industries(ie high tech)capitalized capitalized. Again,this was done,on purpose, before the Reps gainned control of congress. Welfare reforme was always on the agenda. It would have been kinder had the Dems kept control,most likely, but who is to say? The Clinton defense initiatives made great sense also. Remember the first days of the Iraq invasion? The brialliant planning, the rapid advance of the superbly trainned well equipted troops. That was the result of many years of Clinton directives. Where they seem to have had trouble was as an occupation force,but then again,who in their right mind would expect us to ever need an occupation force back then?Nor is BHO willing to hide the cost of two wars. He may well,given his task, become a great leader although it is premature to propose putting his picture on money yet.

Posted by: bills at February 24, 2010 10:57 AM
Comment #296195

Kevin L. Lagola-
I would say: Look where Hillary Clinton got Healthcare, and look where Obama has it right now, on the verge of passage. Then tell me who’s savvier.

Look at where Barack Obama is, and where Hillary Clinton is at the moment. That will tell you who’s savvier.

Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be playing a fiercer game of political hardball. But fiercer politics aren’t necessarily better politics, as the Republicans have demonstrated well over the last few years. Politicians have forgotten about how to get people on their side, after years of practicing the dark art of disparaging their opponents.

Obama’s been nuturing HCR for 13 months now. He’s like a pit bull at a Michael Vick backyard party.

Let me give you a hand for your flair for the charming turn of phrase.

No, never mind. Obama’s been persistent, no doubt, but that’s necessary for somebody trying to get something past the resistance that Washington puts up to change. I think this persistence will pay off, because people will always see Obama out there pushing for change.

Not that he hasn’t made mistakes. He’s made some big ones. But I think his approach puts the pressure back on your folks to either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Your folks have chosen indecision.

Obama will show up to that Healthcare Summit with a fully fleshed out plan, and your side will show up with a blank sheet of paper or worse, a plan built to appeal to a fringe base.

Obama uses is a method I’ve often used, which is to use your opponent’s arguments as an opportunity to state your position and distinguish yourself from your opponent.

The Republicans do him massive favors by being so defiantly oppositional.

First, it means that he can often push them to say no to things they said yes to in the past. The present profound consistency creates an opportunity to demonstrate how far the Republicans have drifted from their once more centrist approach.

Second, it gives him plenty of opportunity to show the American people how unreasonable and impossible you are to deal with, making it far easier to just go the straight party line himself, and remain popular for it.

Third, it helps him show himself to be the more capable and more practical.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 24, 2010 11:00 AM
Comment #296196

You are not paying attention. Please read the links in DR’s post. The stimulus is indeed providing jobs and demand. We are not in a normal economic predicament. The Fed cannot further reduce interest rates to spur economic activity. Special rules apply. Nobody is happy about it but there are things that have to be done now. Everyone needs their thinking caps on right now.

Posted by: bills at February 24, 2010 11:13 AM
Comment #296199

Nice article. Thank you for the read. At this point it still seems too early to pass judgment on Obama’s leadership abilities. Most of the presidents we remember as great leaders earned that reputation for getting the one big call right. As a general, Washington lost almost every battle. Lincoln’s inability to select a good general nearly caused the Union to lost the Civil War, despite an overpowering superiority in manpower and resources.

I appreciate your take on leadership. In the past, Bush supporters seemed to think he was a good leader because he was inflexible. It was ‘my way or the highway.’ That might have worked out if his judgments had been right in the first place. Sadly, ensuing events proved otherwise. His conservative philosphy got virtually everything wrong, from the outsourcing of jobs in the name of ‘free trade,’ to wars fought on credit cards, to tax cuts for the rich and a refusal to veto out-of-control spending, to the denial of Global Warming; and implementing a wrong philosophy naturally meant bad results followed.

Obama has stepped into a difficult situation. I think his leadership skills have been decent for a new president, especially on the international front. I think he deserves credit for at least temporarily salvaging the economy. It’s hard to prove a negative, but the actions taken seem to have prevented a terrible recession from becoming a depression. Maybe. The jury is still out, and unless he can lead intiatives to create jobs- a lot of jobs- there will not be enough momentum to sustain the lift provided by the stimulus, and we will almost certainly slide into another lost decade along the lines of Japan or the US in the 2000’s.

By the way, the recession started in December 2007.

Although we’re only a little over a year into Obama’s presidency, there is a lot to criticize, and there is a lot to praise. In general, he’s shown a willingness to lead all of the American people- not just Democrats- by being careful, pragmatic, and conciliatory. As much as I would like to see a liberal and even socialist agenda put into place, including the nationalization of the large banks, full transparency in the Federal Reserve, universal health care, and so on, I can appreciate the need to be careful and conciliatory. As frustrating as it may be, somtimes it’s better to let pragmatism trump ideology, and Obama seems willing to do that in order to get things done.

Posted by: phx8 at February 24, 2010 1:29 PM
Comment #296204

I am greatly unimpressed and disappointed with the performance and direction of Obama and the Democratic Congress on most issues. I do believe that the Administration has helped the economy with the stimulus but, the jury is still out on the final results.

There is one area that hasn’t been discussed recently and which I think is a plus for Obama and perhaps S. of State Clinton. It seems that they have gotten the message across to the Pakistan’s and there has been an increase in cooperation, with joint operations by both militaries within the borders of Pakistan.

Posted by: jlw at February 24, 2010 4:40 PM
Comment #296206

phx8 - oops, I meant to say the recession began in Dec., 2007 in my post! Thanks for pointing that out.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 24, 2010 5:00 PM
Comment #296209

By the way, the Democrats passed Pay-Go legislation despite conservative opposition, for which Obama deserves credit. Also, about 2/3 of the stimulus money will be in the form of infrastructure spending next year, which should spin off private jobs for contractors and sub-contractors. We’re facing the worst economic problem since the Great Depression- we’re still facing it- and bemoaning the symptoms, such as deficits and debt, completely misses the point of what we need to do in order to recover.

Posted by: phx8 at February 24, 2010 5:41 PM
Comment #296210

Once again, WH proves Jobs Isn’t #1 priority…read second paragraph of the following article.


Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 24, 2010 6:23 PM
Comment #296212

New York Times’ Paul Krugman being interviewed by The New Yorker magazine:

QUESTION FROM STANLEY SMITH: Has the president been a disappointment to you and are you ready to abandon President Obama?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, I’m disappointed—but you go to crisis with the president you have. Look, Obama is smart and well-intentioned; I agree with the direction of just about all his policies. What he’s lacked is sufficient urgency and force—plus it’s hard to do things with a relentlessly obstructionist opposition, plus the need for a supermajority. But I still have hope— for example, after a worrying lack of leadership for several weeks, he seems to be pushing hard for health reform again.

Read more:

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 24, 2010 6:53 PM
Comment #296213


Your link to an article written by Mike Allen about anonymous Democratic sources discussing Obama’s 2012 reelection strategy provides NO EVIDENCE whatsoever, to support your last comment that jobs are not among the highest of Obama’s priorities.

Obama said they are a high priority. And his actions on the Jobs Bill and Stimulus Money are PROOF his word is good on this issue.

Mike Allen doesn’t mention jobs in his article, and to you, that is evidence Obama is not holding jobs up as among his highest priorities. Did not occur that Mike Allen’s article is about the 2012 Obama campaign and not about jobs?

Health care is only mentioned once in the entire article, and not in reference to Obama. By your comment’s logic, that means Obama is not making health care reform a high priority either.

Facts are stubborn things against idle partisan wishful fantasy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2010 7:02 PM
Comment #296214

Kevin, you are quoting a Leftist Keynesian economist and writer. You are arguing that because Krugman is disappointed with Obama’s not having been more forceful and urgent in pushing a far left economics agenda, that you agree with Krugman on Obama’s leadership skills?

Was I mistaken in interpreting your article as a pro-Republican theme? Your comment seems to be agreeing with Krugman that Obama isn’t more forceful in pushing socialized health care, and because he isn’t, his leadership skills are wanting.

Sorry, but, that seems like a contradiction, to me.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2010 7:13 PM
Comment #296215

jlw, Selecting Clinton for S. of State, has proved to be a genius leadership decision, despite the critics of it at the time, within his own Party, and the opposition.

Human civilization is in constant flux and change. There are never any guarantees that a particular policy decision will prove to have been the best or even good. That said, there is no substitute for intelligent, educated guesses and the courage to implement and back them, which increase the odds of success for initiatives considerably.

I think Democrats complete bungled the passage of health care reform. But, that criticism is rightly aimed at Democrats in the Congress. They are responsible for writing legislation. The president can suggest, and outline acceptable parameters that won’t be vetoed, but, that is the Constitutional limit of his power in the legislative process.

Being educated in Constitutional law, Obama has been faithful to his roles Constitutional limits. A vast difference from the last president, who I am sure read the Constitution, but, failed to grasp it, and therefore stepped way outside its checks and balances.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2010 7:22 PM
Comment #296221

KL and Krugman have a point. Fortunately there is a learnning curve. I doubt much that KL will like the results. IMO ,BHO wasted months with Max Bacus trying to craft a HC proposal that would get some Rep support. No way that was going to happen. The Rep masters will simply not allow it and he should have known that. He does now. The stimulus should have been far bigger. Now we have to buck politics to add even small increases like the paltry jobs bill. BHO ,for political reasons should have been tougher with the banks,even nationalizing some. Instead he ceeded the populist outrage to the very party responsible for the failure. The good part is his tune is changing. Looks like he is willing to give the Reps enough rope to hang themselves.

Posted by: bills at February 24, 2010 11:02 PM
Comment #296222

David, I just gave the Administration some due for what appears to be some success in Pakistan. the degree to which that helps with Afganistan is still an unknown.

IMO, the Administration was caught flatfooted when the Iraq government rejected many of the Sunni candidates which caused a lot of animosity. I think they underestimated Iran’s influence in Iraqi politics and I think they have underestimated the time line in stabalizing Iraq without civil war.

They are having a tough time with Israel/Palestine but, I can’t see how there is much they can do about it if Congress isn’t willing to help and the Israelies are having nut un yahoo.

President Bush made suggestions to Congress and Congress passed nearly all of them. There may have been times when Bush interfered with the legislative process by twisting the arms of some Republicans to get something he wanted but, I can’t remember any.

If I recall correctly, he and the Republican Congress were pretty much in lock step with each other and the Democrats were there with them most of the time. The Democrats seldom filibustered the Republicans and now that they are in power they won’t force the Republicans or even Lieberman to filibuster.

If Obama hasn’t interfered with the legislative process, hasn’t taken sides and twisted arms, why are many of the House Democrats accusing him of doing so and why are they upset with him?

Posted by: jlw at February 25, 2010 12:27 AM
Comment #296225

jlw said: “President Bush made suggestions to Congress and Congress passed nearly all of them. There may have been times when Bush interfered with the legislative process by twisting the arms of some Republicans to get something he wanted but, I can’t remember any.”

Does the term “signing memos” ring any bells? How about breaching treaties and employing torture in America’s name? How about Dick Cheney’s integral dealings with the Republican agenda in the Congress? How about the Pardon of Scooter Libby cutting Congress’ investigation on behalf of the American people, off at the knees? How about illegal invasions of privacy in surveilling Americans communications without due process, and entirely in secret until exposed?

These weren’t suggestions to Congress. These were end runs around Congress and their powers as check and balance upon the Executive Branch.

jlw said: “If Obama hasn’t interfered with the legislative process, hasn’t taken sides and twisted arms, why are many of the House Democrats accusing him of doing so and why are they upset with him?”

Many more are criticizing Obama for NOT having taken a stronger legislative stand, and those critiques are coming from his own Progressives in Congress. It is a given Republicans will criticize whatever Obama does, unless doing so would threaten their own reelection.

You do recall, correctly, the lock step Republican Congress with the White House. No checks and balances, whatsoever. Good memory on that one.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 25, 2010 4:17 AM
Comment #296227

bills said: “I doubt much that KL will like the results. IMO ,BHO wasted months with Max Bacus trying to craft a HC proposal that would get some Rep support. No way that was going to happen. The Rep masters will simply not allow it and he should have known that. He does now.”

No, they are missing the point, ENTIRELY! The American people elected Obama, not Krugman, by 53% of the vote. Obama made a commitment to the American people to work for more bi-partisan results and less rancor between his W.H. and the opposing Party. Obama has kept faith with that promise, and I think Krugman will continue to be disappointed in this regard.

Obama knows keeping his word to work for the American people and the change sought by those who elected him are not only important to his own integrity, and long term benefit of the nation, but, also essential to his reelection in 2012. NO “Read My Lips…” apparent betrayals will be forthcoming from Obama. (I am no deriding Bush I for his decision to raise taxes, it was the prudent and required thing to do, given the circumstances. His error was in making that pledge on the campaign trail and boxing himself in.)

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 25, 2010 4:24 AM
Comment #296228

I woke up from a unique dream tonight on the eve of Obama’s HC Summit:

Remember the 1996 John Grisham-Based novel that became the movie ‘A Time to Kill?’ And how Samuel L. Jackson played the character Carl Lee Baily - the man who shot and killed two White Supremacists in the courtroom after they allegedly raped his 10-year-old daughter and left her for dead?

And how Matthew McConaughey played his good friend and lawyer - Jake Tyler Brigance?

Well picture Obama at the HC Summit with the select few invitees sitting around the now-renowned square-shaped table in Blair House. With C-Span cameras rolling, and millions of Americans watching, Obama walks into the center of the arranged tables and asks everyone to please close their eyes.

After some curious looks and some rustling among the crowd, Obama meticulously launches into his best Jake Brigance impersonation and tells the narrative of America with a broken Healt Care system. He puts a human face on the story. He is able to smash preconceived notions and peel away the many riduculous partisan crap. Everyone is listening intently, to his every word. He has a captive audience. A national captive audience at that.

The main stream media breaks in for this palpable moment. And Obama goes on to explain, like a Civil War narrator, and explains all that is fundamentally wrong with the system and does it in a way that crashes through partisan bickering.

Soon thereafter, Congress promises to have a “come to Jesus meeting” and resolve to pass a bill that will put the people first.

Fiction, I know, but one can only dream.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 25, 2010 5:05 AM
Comment #296229


“It is time for BHO to step up to the plate. It might help if there were not so many spectaters rooting their throats out for failure. This is especially ,to put it politely,unbecomming when there are brave soldiers following his orders in a major offensive.”

this is absolutely hilarious. what a profound, albeit hypocritical statement from the party who constantly opined ” the war is lost” while bush was president. no credibility whatsoever…..LOL!!

Posted by: dbs at February 25, 2010 5:14 AM
Comment #296230

The Reps will never support the kind of changes the HC delivery system needs. They will never get out of the way. If BHO had realized that sooner he could have signed the bill already. Hell,Ted Kennedy could have attended the ceremony.The trick now is to force enough Reps to duck and cover and allow them some face saving,like weakenning consumer protections, their next favorite thing to tax cuts for rich people.
If he and congressional leaders had seen the obvious sooner and approached the start with a single payer plan, the so called moderates would be begging for a public option instead of forcing it out. They are not playing patty cake and the opposition are not nice people.

Posted by: bills at February 25, 2010 5:16 AM
Comment #296232

If Leadership requires that you bully others to get your way than I would agree President Obama has not done his job; however, seeing that he has been patient and allowed all sides of Society to speak out about Healthcare, the Economy, and Energy while waiting for a Republican Leaders to get serious about doing the Business of We the People. I do believe the Party of No needs to be replaced with a Party that Knows how Americas’ Commerce, Industries, and Institutions can solve the Issues of the 20th Century and prepare for the Events of the 21st Century.

No, President Obama has stated over and over again that he looks forward to a Debate with a Republican Leader over the Right of America to build a Better World than the Youth of the 60’s and Silver Spoons of the 70’s. Yet, even on the Day of the Healthcare Summit We the People hear the Charlatans and Vagabonds of Washington instead of the American Barons like Mr. T. Boone Pickens who can prove to the President of the United States of America and Congress how a new Pre-Paid Health and Medical Care System can be built over the next 20 years.

Because why talk of problems are cheap, explaining how the Endless Opportunities can be used to lower costs while improving the Quality of a Doctor and Patient Relationship is going to take more than saying no to the Status Quo. And geting that conversation started between My Brothers and Sisters of the 70’s will take some serious Leadership from Americas’ Elected Officials.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at February 25, 2010 6:26 AM
Comment #296235

Kevin L. Lagola-
Fiction? Your problem, as a party, with Barack Obama, is that such a scenario is only a degree or two away from the truth.

In a country of free men and women, Leadership is not merely the force of law or the apparent force of held beliefs. Leadership is being able to change people’s minds, persuade folks. Republicans have been throwing up a wall of vitriol, venom and disdain with precisely the purpose of opposing those pretty words, and out of precisely the fear of what effect those words can have.

Republicans are making all the noise they are about blank sheets of paper because they cannot equal the President either on the potential popularity of Obama’s suggestions (I mean, come on, abolish medicare?) or on his ability to sell them, and call the Republicans out on their talking points. The Republicans can propagandize, but Obama is a smart enough guy on the facts and the rhetoric to deconstruct the Republican’s talking points.

Obama’s strength is that he is that he can be politically creative, and sell people on the product of that creativity. He’s not chained himself to a certain set of party-approved talking points and positions. He can outmanuever a Republican Party that has painted itself into a corner politically. He can sell Liberalism in the way Reagan could sell Conservatism.

You may bash Obama’s persuasive appeal, but you do so out of a genuine fear that if you don’t get their first and prejudice people against him, he might actually change people’s minds. Trouble is, he’s not only already succeeding on a number of fronts in demonstrating that Liberal ways of doing things can work, including the Stimulus and his war policies, but many people are already convinced of the need for change.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 25, 2010 8:19 AM
Comment #296237

So clearly you do not want to be like a hypocritical Democrat so you should support this president.Right?

Posted by: bills at February 25, 2010 10:19 AM
Comment #296240

I think you need to get a life. There are more important things (anything) than what football team the president likes, the beer summit, and telling the people if they can’t afford it they shouldn’t gamble. Give. Me. A. Break. You’d make a post about how this guy breathes and walks down the street the wrong way.

Posted by: Max at February 25, 2010 11:11 AM
Comment #296245

I meant to ask about this earlier. “Breakfast of Champions” is a great book by Kurt Vonnegut. It is also slang for drinking alcohol first thing in the morning. Were you referring to either of those in the original article?

Posted by: phx8 at February 25, 2010 2:23 PM
Comment #296249

It’s Wheaties, youngster.

Posted by: tom humes at February 25, 2010 4:30 PM
Comment #296251


“So clearly you do not want to be like a hypocritical Democrat so you should support this president.Right?”

i don’t support his domestic policies. marxism doesn’t appeal to me. why don’t you explaine to me how my rejection of his policies is hurting the marines, and soldiers serving in the middle east. funny how the dems could claim countless times the war in iraq is lost, and then credit obama for our success. now that’s hypoctitical.

Posted by: dbs at February 25, 2010 4:52 PM
Comment #296264

Lol. You’re right. In the beginning of “Breakfast of Champions,” Vonnegut specifically apologizes to Wheaties and makes it clear he is not referring to their cereal with his title. I’m 53. Blame it on age, not youth!

Posted by: phx8 at February 25, 2010 10:10 PM
Comment #296279

Not to be rude, but I don’t think the average Republican or person on the right wing really knows what Marxism is.

The bank bailout, for example, wasn’t Marxism. A Marxist would have nationalized the banks and KEPT them nationalized. There’s so much this President could have done if he wished to do so. He could have demagogued the hell out of all this, exploited popular sentiment.

Instead, he helped keep the banks, the essential capitalists upright. Perhaps it’s socialism, but it’s no kind of socialism that Marx would tolerate.

So why do Republicans and folks on the right call the man who essentially oversaw capitalism’s salvation a marxist and a socialist?

To exploit people’s frustrations. To keep folks like you hyper about bashing the Democrats.

But not, truly, to do anything useful to keep the system running. The Republicans are preaching a gospel of letting the status quo repair itself. Never mind most experts say that this will prolong the economic downturn and raise it’s costs. Never mind if this makes us a second rate power in the world again.

Republicans have made the calculation that if it takes leading this country to the edge of ruin, of letting pernicious problems fester, that’s what has to be done to save the country from itself. Then we can have prosperity, a return to glory. When Republicans and the Right Wing are in control.

I think America should have the freedom to be prosperous on its own terms. This is a Democracy. They elected us to a majority. If we’re wrong, if they hate what we did with the place, the error is correctable.

Unfortunately, Republicans don’t want their errors corrected. They feel, perhaps rightly, that if they let there be an end to the errors, it might also be an end of an era for them.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 26, 2010 10:52 AM
Comment #296286

There are many bright and insightful comments on this blog. I agree with many; however, see some glaring inconsistencies with others. The original post was based on leadership and the state of the economy. Economically, it appears as if we are heading toward a rebound and that is excellent. Strange that people on this blog can’t admit that both Bush and BO have taken steps to better the economy. That said when my taxes and health care fees increase over the coming years my personal financial status won’t appear as optimistic. Unfortunately and understandably so taxes ebb and flow with the changing administrations and I am ok with that.

I agree that BO’s leadership could be improved a bit. Not because he is doing anything different from other Presidents, but because he “promised” us that he would be different… he isn’t. In fact I can’t even watch a White House Press Conference due to the tiresome droning on of Mr. Gibbs. Unfortunately BO appears pleased that his administration continually alienates sections of the American public and supplies countless contentious sound-bites that make most even-keeled individuals cringe.

Stephen, your responses are well arranged, intelligent and indicate that you have done some research. That said, your analysis appears a bit unfounded. Perhaps, you and Mr. Gibbs attended the same school of making friends.

David R, your comment about torture is so tiresome. Apparently you forgot what it was like in 2001-2002 regarding our collective fears about getting attacked again. Perhaps if Clinton (and I am a huge Clinton fan) would have ok’d the killing of UBL perhaps we wouldn’t have needed to employ such harsh methods. I find it humorous that simulating drowning is so frighting that we needed to stop doing it yet we can quietly continue assassinating Taliban and AQ in Pac/Afg. I’m curious how you will explain the later as more humane. Don’t get me wrong I support all efforts to keep us safe and preserve our freedom to bicker over trivial matters online.

Posted by: Napsack at February 26, 2010 3:45 PM
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