What Kind of Leader is President Obama?
Leadership and temperament count in politics – all the more so when the political setting is the White House. That's the painful lesson the country is learning as the Obama presidency unfolds. Some people are born actors and talkers. They love to argue, debate, and negotiate. People like these are well-suited for legislative life.
But others – people like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, or Golda Meir – were born to lead. Alexander Hamilton argued in The Federalist for a strong executive, saying that in social and civic life emergencies are the rule; discretion, vigor, and decisiveness are critical in facing them. In such times we need leaders with intestinal fortitude to act quickly and take responsibility for their choices, made as they are under great pressure.
Historically, Americans have understood this when choosing their President. The great majority of the men we've elected to the Oval Office had executive experience and distinguished records of accomplishment that could be weighed in the voting booth. Men like George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, and Dwight Eisenhower were prominent military leaders before they were Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt and James Garfield also displayed leadership gifts in battle.
An alternate prerequisite for the Presidency is gubernatorial experience. Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, James Monroe – all were governors before they were Presidents. So were the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
A handful of men without executive experience have been elected President – Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, John F. Kennedy ... and now Barack Obama. Their records are a strong argument in favor of voters' preferences for candidates with leadership experience.
Franklin Pierce, while a good man, was not a strong President. His administration (1853-57) presided with ruinous fecklessness over a country in the throes of an approaching civil war. Warren Harding, though popular in his day, is best known for the scandals that plagued his short-lived (1921-23) presidency. JFK, for all the soft-focus worship he posthumously receives, was, before the Cuban missile crisis, considered so weak and vacillating by Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets that they thought they could put nuclear-tipped missiles in Fidel Castro's Cuba, 90 miles away from the U.S., with impunity. Suddenly the world teetered on the edge of nuclear war. Though Kennedy eventually found his resolve and stared Khrushchev down, it was his lack of strength that provoked the crisis in the first place.
This is not to say that executive skills are any guarantee of suitability or wisdom in the White House. Kennedy, Harding, Pierce, and Obama are far from the only Presidents with feet of clay. But the American people have, appropriately, come to regard lack of executive experience as a red flag, and a precursor of trouble.
Consider Barack Obama. Almost from the beginning he has comported himself irresponsibly, in ways unbecoming a president. He appears to have forgotten, for instance, that to the rest of the world, the President represents the country. Instead he apologizes for us, repeatedly. Out of pettiness and pique he has insulted and alienated one U.S. ally after another. He has treated Gordon Brown scornfully, and rebuffed Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy. He has been openly contemptuous of Benjamin Netanyahu. He has double-crossed the governments and peoples of Czechoslovakia and Poland. He withheld moral support from the protesters in Iran when they were being shot and beaten in the streets. All this behavior is bad enough by itself, but Obama has done worse – he's consorted with our enemies. He's kissed up to Vladimir Putin, palled around with Hugo Chavez, groveled to the Chinese and the Saudis – and reaped little but their contempt in return.
He's been as bad at home as he has been abroad. He appears not to know or care that the Constitution charges the President of the United States with the solemn duty of representing the national interest. Congressmen, by contrast, are expected to attend to local ones. But left to their own devices, legislators fall easily into habits of patronage that beget corruption and odious power arrangements. Obama is oblivious to this. Time and again he defers to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in the drafting of legislation. The result? Serial monstrosities: the "stimulus" bill, healthcare "reform", financial "reform" – each of them thousand-page testaments to political hackery, statism, and reckless disregard for the country's financial future. But, ever the party man and loyal apparatchik, Obama cheerfully promotes and signs this junk into law.
And when a real crisis comes, Obama decisively and definitively ... craps out. When the lunatic Major Nidal Malik Hassan shot and killed thirteen Americans at Fort Hood, there was Obama, giving a rah-rah "shout out" to Dr. Joe Medicine Crow while the death toll mounted and a horrified nation watched on TV. When the panty bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came frighteningly close to blowing a jetliner out of the sky at Christmas time, there were Obama and Eric Holder, reading the would-be martyr his Miranda Rights while Janet Napolitano pronounced our security systems sound. When Faisal Shahzad planted a bomb in Times Square, there was the news that the Obama administration had taken his name off a DHS no-fly list. All of these near-misses can be traced to a U.S. intelligence apparatus in disarray. All of them can be traced to radical Islamic fundamentalism. And all of them revealed a U.S. President who could barely tear himself away from a Hawaii vacation, a glitzy party, or a round of golf to attend to the failures of his government. And getting Obama to acknowledge the danger posed by radical Islam is like pulling teeth.
Some on the left lament that No-Drama Obama doesn't have it in him to show any sense of urgency. Woe to us that our safety rests in his hands.
The latest example of his imperial indifference is the gulf oil spill. Obama's defenders tell us the spill isn't his responsibility any more than Hurricane Katrina was President Bush's. But there's a world of difference between the two. President Bush had nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina. But President Obama had direct responsibility for making sure that the regulators who oversaw deep-water drilling did their jobs. Indeed, while he ran for president, candidate Obama excoriated Bush for allegedly letting Big Oil regulate itself. He promised to put a stop to that if he were elected. Yet he also unclenched his fist long enough to take big campaign contributions from BP.
Obama's reaction to the spill has been marked by lethargy, incompetence, bureaucratic red tape, and finger-pointing. While the Gulf state governors begged and clamored for help, Obama golfed and partied, turned down offers of help from other nations, and sat idly by while the federal bureaucracy twiddled its thumbs.
The same environmentalists who castigated Bush for waiting half a week to help New Orleans with Katrina seem willing to forgive Obama his eleven weeks (and counting) worth of oil fouling the gulf. Pity the people of Louisiana in the meantime, who, in addition to the environmental disaster, must suffer the economic blow from the (utterly unnecessary) drilling moratorium, imposed by Obama to reassure his base that he was busy doing something. Even with the ongoing spill, more than 75% of Louisiana voters support offshore drilling. Half of polled voters think President Bush handled Katrina better than Obama has handled the spill.
The only politician whose fortunes have risen with the crisis is Governor Bobby Jindal, who's emerged as a true leader, and a man with executive temperament. With far fewer resources to combat the spill than Barack Obama, Jindal has done much more than the President to protect Louisiana beaches and marsh. You can be sure that American voters have taken notice of Governor Jindal.
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