In the past two months, the House Speaker has criticized the integrity of the CIA, a popular television host called a governor a "slutty flight attendant," and a California Senator publicly humiliated a U.S. Army general.
And what has our president had to say about any of it? Zilch. Nada. Crickets.
While it's true the president's job is not to mediate childish playground disputes, he is supposed to show some calculated leadership on all kinds of issues, small and large, especially when they become so publicly divisive. Americans are desperate to know what he thinks, and his lack of leadership on these issues has been conspicuous and chilling.
When Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to her and Congress about the use of certain interrogation methods, President Obama allowed the accusations to go totally unanswered, even after she repeated and strengthened them. By maintaining his silence on the matter, Republicans were forced to take leadership themselves, pressing the Speaker on her charges, and defending the CIA.
This wasn't just a little pigtail-pulling tiff by the see-saw -- this concerned the credibility of the CIA, the legitimacy of the agency's intelligence, and our national security itself. And the only response it elicited from Obama was a bizarre and anachronistic interjection into a briefing on auto emissions, when he suddenly offered that Pelosi has "just been cracking the whip and, you know, making Congress so productive over these last several days. We are grateful for her."
The only right action here for any president was to defend the CIA, his CIA director and the country's intelligence-gathering operatives. Where did he stand on it? We don't know.
Then, a month later, when David Letterman called Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a "slutty flight attendant" and hurled despicable insults at her daughter, the silence, again, was deafening. Even though the incident may not carry global policy implications, as a father of two daughters and the leader of a country that has more women than men, didn't he feel compelled to defend an accomplished governor and mother of five? Apparently not.
Had the president issued a brief statement criticizing Letterman's deplorable jokes, he would have set the tone for an industry that already worships him, while appeasing women on both sides of the aisle who are deeply offended by the way Palin -- and Hillary Clinton, for that matter -- have been treated. Is he a uniter or isn't he?
And most recently, when Senator Barbara Boxer demanded that a decorated U.S. Army general call her "senator" instead of "ma'am" -- setting off a wave of outrage in the Armed Services -- the president and his administration were again silent. There was no defense issued for a U.S. senator or for the military personnel he commands. Content to let Boxer and her supporters duke it out with the military, President Obama didn't wade into this one either.
Arguments that the president is too busy to waste time on petty, partisan squabbles like these just doesn't fly. First, they aren't petty. They are important commentaries on the social and cultural divisions of the country, and the very stuff Americans care about. They want to know what the president thinks about them.
Second, he apparently has plenty of time. If there's time to make a Leno appearance, and time to fill out (and post on the White House official Web site) his NCAA brackets, and time to comment on Rush Limbaugh and FOX News, then isn't there time to throw an opinion or two out on these issues?
His silence on these matters would be more compelling if President Obama were loudly and decisively dealing with the really important stuff, like Iran and North Korea. But he's been relatively silent there as well. When Britain comes down heavier on Iran than the United States does, you know something's out of whack. And as for North Korea, that was handed over to the U.N., where it was summarily scolded.
The president will spend this week selling health care on ABC. But the more he remains silent on issues large and small, domestic and international, cultural and political, the less presidential he looks. Just because he lives in the White House, flies on Air Force One, makes commercials for his various policy initiatives, and appoints czars to oversee the big problems, doesn't mean he's leading the country. Real leaders have opinions. What are his?