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.
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.