It is becoming crystal clear that President Obama is not the leader we thought he was. This revelation is as surprising as it is disappointing. He certainly looks like a leader; heaven knows he talks like a leader, but it turns out that he lacks a crucial qualification that all real leaders possess.
Great leaders put themselves on the line; Obama puts Congress on the line.
This penchant made headlines again last week. The White House wants to establish a commission to cut the federal budget deficit. According to The Wall Street Journal, budget director Peter Orszag met with Senate Budget Committee head Kent Conrad about setting up a bipartisan committee that will examine ways to reduce spending.
Here’s a shocker for the White House: that’s your job. You are in charge of the budget. You -- the Obama administration -- made the spending choices that led to a $1.4 trillion deficit for fiscal 2009. Going forward, your decision to ramp up government outlays guarantees unsustainable red ink far into the future. Yes, you stepped into a deteriorating situation, as you have reminded the American people on countless occasions; like all inheritances, however, the deficit now belongs to you.
It is not up to Congress to find a way out of our fiscal sand trap -- that is the responsibility of the White House. It is the president, ultimately, who is responsible for finding ways to cut the out-of-control entitlements programs that will otherwise destabilize this country. He then has to ram the tough choices through Congress, which his party dominates, even if it makes some people angry.
This, Obama will not want to do. His desire to shunt responsibility to others is not a one-off. Obama displayed his distaste for taking responsibility right out of the box when he handed health care overhaul to Congress, though it was his signature issue. Given that the country has been wracked with controversy over Congress’ proposals to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on health insurance for uncovered Americans and that the bills issuing from our dysfunctional legislature are a bloated embarrassment, would it not have been better for a newly elected and then-popular president to have worked his magic on this issue? If he had personally guided the construction of a health care bill would the country have been subjected to the bitter wrangling we now witness? Could a quicker resolution of the issue have allowed Obama to focus on jobs -- the number one priority of Americans today?
I should note that Congress is not always the fall-guy for the president. Sometimes Obama hands the baton to others. For example, trying terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York civil court was apparently the brainstorm of Attorney General Eric Holder. As the outrage over this decision built, Holder claimed total responsibility, saying that the president was informed of the plan after the fact. Does anyone believe that?
By the way, the president’s reluctance to put himself on the line predates his presidency. We recall his 130 votes of “present” on many controversial issues while serving as an Illinois state senator. During the campaign we were fed the tale that such ambiguity is a hallmark of that body. Hilary Clinton saw through that absurdity and during the campaign derided him as a “talker” rather than a “doer.” How right she was.
Obama’s desire to avoid accountability is understandable, if not laudable. Every time a politician takes a stand, he alienates some voters. The Obama White House has made a fine art of political assessment. The upcoming decision on Afghanistan is a case in point. After weeks of postponement and soul-searching, Obama has apparently decided to send up to 30,000 additional Marines -- in phases -- initially targeting Afghanistan’s southern sector. This is a far cry from the immediate deployment of 40,000 troops requested by General Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s hand-picked adviser. We can only hope that this decision will get the job done. The Goldilocks strategy -- trying to appease those who see Obama as weak on fighting terrorists while comforting those who oppose our presence in Afghanistan -- smacks of political calculation. At least Obama personally made the decision. On the other hand, the process was so clumsy that maybe we’re better off dealing with designated hitters.
According to most analysts, the United States faces an extended period of high unemployment and slow growth. This will be a trying period for our impatient country. Americans like quick fixes; our attention span is about the length of a Tweet. A drawn-out recovery that does not supply a steady stream of new jobs could spell trouble, and bring back the social turbulence of other unhappy and struggling times.
President Obama is in the hot seat; he needs to learn how to lead, and should send the political calculators back to Chicago.
Liz Peek is a financial columnist and frequent Fox Forum contributor. Read more from Peek at wowowow.com.