Obama and Adversity

There is nothing like adversity to not only test one’s mettle but demands one to take stock of his/her life and the choices made and to see if/where one can do better. As a leader, adversity will either further burnish your leadership qualities or exposes you in ways that are most unflattering.

President Barack Obama meets with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in the Oval Office, Aug. 4, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Recently, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) decided to downgrade the US’s credit rating from AAA, the coveted Triple-A rating, to AA+, its second best rating. This is the first time that one of the major credit rating agencies, the other two major agencies being Moody’s and Fitch, has downgraded the US debt securities/credit. The reaction has been both palpable and predictable with S&P’s motives, methodology, arithmetic and its relevance being called into question.

In turn, the S&P folks have been on a media blitz/tour of sorts to explain and justify the reasons they downgraded the US’s credit rating. They cite the dysfunctional nature of the American political process to arriving at any agreement to seriously tackle its debt problem and the fact that even the recently agreed-to debt agreement will do very little to seriously address this problem.

Clearly, any ideas to tackle America’s debt problems can’t be made simply with an eye to the next election cycle but with an eye to America’s near, medium and long-term future. Whether the folks in Washington, DC, can see this and put aside their differences to do this will say a lot about the US and where it’s headed.

This leads to leadership and the fact that it is, to a degree, missing in Washington, DC. There is no doubt that President Barack Obama has been dealt a bad hand. He inherited a crappy economy from his immediate predecessor but he also came into office as a Democrat and with the Democrats in control of both houses of the US Congress. Yes, with the way the US Congress is structured and with its rules it is close to impossible to get a number of things done without some degree of cross-party consensus and the GOP decided from the outset that it was not in the mood to be of too much help.

In fact, they made it explicitly and overtly clear that their aim was to do what it took to make sure Barack Obama would be a one-term president. Clearly, their plan would appear to be working but the victory, such as it could be, would be a Pyrrhic one.

Anyone who follows American politics knows that the president does not have the power of the purse and that this power lies with the Congress. That said, this does not mean that he should not make suggestions and ask that the Congress consider them. He says he will be coming up with ideas to get the US economy on a more sound footing and will be presenting them to this 12-member Congressional committee to peruse and consider over the next few weeks. The truth is that he should have done this before now.

The stimulus package he had the Congress pass before was not big enough and too much of it was in the form of tax cuts that did very little to actually stimulate the economy. He failed to get his own Democratic Party to fully line up behind it and instead offered to compromise as soon as Republican obstructionists started to raise objections.

Obama needs to not just simply make proposals to the Congress but make them known to the American people via an address to the nation. Hehas not shown the willingness nor the strength to stand up for his beliefs and this is something that has not gone unnoticed by his supporters. He appears too willing to compromise at the drop of a hat rather than exhibit the daring self-confidence and strength of belief folks saw when he ok’d the taking out of those Somali pirates and Osama bin-Laden.

He has allowed his opponents and detractors to define him and his administration and to write the narrative as it relates to what should be done to turn the American economy around and the Democratic Party, which he leads, has done likewise.

Obama has failed to fully take advantage of the bully pulpit that the presidency of the US offers to effectively get his message out. In watching him in his speech reacting to the downgrade of America’s credit rating, one saw a speech that was anything but confidence-inspiring and a man who just looked beaten down. There was nothing in the speech, the inflection, his demeanor – physical and verbal, which inspired confidence. It sounded more contrived than comforting and it pains me to say this because I’m a supporter of his.

This is not something that went unnoticed as a number of commentators also said that the Pres. Obama of today does not seem to inspire confidence the way candidate Obama of 2008 did.

I was not around in the 1930s but from what I’ve seen, heard and read, Franklin Delano Roosevelt inspired the then US to come out of the Great Depression. He took on his opponents and detractors and Americans then did not doubt who was in charge. It is what Americans have always wanted in their presidents – leaders who are not afraid to let all and sundry know who’s in charge.

It is simply not enough to sit around and hope that the GOP/Tea Party folks continue to make asses of themselves and hope that Americans will come to the realization that none of those folks have what it takes to be president. Americans have already proven that too many of them will vote against their own interests to elect fools and morons who promise to make their lives better but are doing just the total opposite.

In these times, we want a steady yet firm and decisive hand at the wheel and there should be no doubt about who’s in charge. We want a leader with conviction who is willing to listen to and solicit good advice but who’s not afraid to show others the folly of their ways and is easily manipulated. Finally, in these times we don’t want to see the occasional flashes of brilliance but a steady shining light and right now I can’t say this is the case.

     

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5 comments on “Obama and Adversity
  1. When you’re surrounded by people who’d rather take their gun to church than tithes anything can happen. He may well be held hostage by a threat to his family or some such situation. Seems like something he can’t even share with his Democratic party colleagues.

  2. @ Toots, I don’t buy into your argument. With the exception of episodes involving the Somali pirates and Osama bin-Laden, Pres. Obama has not shown enough backbone in his dealings with the GOP in the US Congress and in his leadership of the US. He did not come into the presidency blind in terms of the problems with the economy he was inheriting and it seemed to me he should have made some clear-cut decisions as to what he wanted to get done from the get-go and define the narrative. Thus far he has failed to do so. Americans are looking for confidence from their president in these times and right now they’re not getting it from Pres. Obama and the rest of the Democrats in the Congress and they’re getting nonsense from the GOP/Tea Party. Americans.

  3. Trevor – The US presidency is not allowed to be operate as a dictatorship or autocracy as a president of a non-union company could. As head of the Executive branch, President Obama has done all within his authorized power – including making deep cuts to the Federal budget that only Congress can increase.

    You must remember that the core principles in the US’ representative democracy model are separation of powers of the branches of government (and State’s rights), and checks and balances to avoid tyrannical rule, as much as possible.

    The three branches of government (Executive, Congress, and Judiciary) were deliberately pitted against each other to avoid one dominating each other.

    In the design of Congress, the House and Senate were made independently elected bodies representing local and regional interest, respectively.

    Along with their self-interest for power and re-election, Congresspersons do not have to side with the President much less their party on anything, but become branches within a branch.

    Hence, critical, long lasting decisions require achieving consensus (mutual agreement) or making compromises (trading interests). As designed, Congress can change every two years, therefore consensus or compromise is necessary for stable and progressive government.

    Although President Obama pushed his agenda very early, a DNC dominated Congress failed to execute his agenda before the mid-term election. Now a mixed Congress has to seek unity for the US to move forward. That is how it was designed (see the Federalist Papers).

  4. Richard, I’m not implying that Pres. Obama needs to act like a dictator to try and get his way and I know about the separation of powers between the three main branches of the USG. It does not mean, however, that he cannot try and make his case to the American public for why creating more jobs now is more important than worrying about America’s long-term debt/deficit. He’s getting very little in the way of any cooperation from the GOP/Tea Party and he is, depending on who you want to believe, alienating his base so he needs to make a cogent and coherent case to the wider American public to help effect the changes he wants. FDR did this back in the 30s and no one ever accused him of being anything remotely akin to acting like a dictator. Also, if you read the article you’d clearly see where I say that not much can be achieved in the US Congress without cross-party consensus.

  5. The problem with the consensus/compromise approach is that the experienced negotiator have either died or moved on (e.g. Ted Kennedy). It is true that FDR’s persistent optimism and activism contributed to a renewal of the national spirit. Obama approach could have had the same effect had it not been for the emergence of the Tea Partiers that now clash with fellow moderate Republicans. FDR’s tenure spanned WWI relief, recovery, and reform to WWII unilateral action and war. Behind the scenes FDR was as ruthless as a dictator in pushing thru the DNC agenda, and Democrats controlled of both Houses of Congress. To be fair to Obama, he did not say he would make change; he inspired change. Obama made his case to the US public many times, but that alone cannot alleviate the current condition. The key to creating more US jobs lies in the actions of the Federal Reserve. Also, Obama has to make deeper cuts in ineffective/inefficient areas, and then invest in major infrastructure development.

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