January 3, 2012
The Republicans are quick to accuse President Obama of exercising a lack of leadership when it comes to passing legislation, most recently a bill to extend the reduction of payroll taxes. I personally have issues with President Obama’s leadership, but not in the narrow sense portrayed by his Republican detractors.
There are perhaps as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. For the sake of this discussion I’ll go with Wikipedia’s definition: the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task".
One of the hallmarks of Presidential leadership is his ability to mobilize a political consensus to move his agenda forward. By his, I mean an agenda he feels is in the best interest of the country. To my way of thinking President Obama has failed to do so, in large measure by being unwilling to go directly to the people in a sustained fashion – using his bully pulpit to engage the citizenry and thereby put pressure on his political opponents. President Obama points out Republican alliances to big business, oil, and the uber-rich, but has lacked the conviction or courage to drive these points home.
Re-electing President Obama will do nothing for his agenda unless he has a Democratic Congress to work with. Even this situation, as evidenced by the first two years of his administration, is an insufficient condition for success. As an example, the Bush Administration avoided a Democratic filibuster of their tax cut package by ruling that the cut could be passed under reconciliation rules. When it came time to reinstate some of these taxes, Democratic leaders lacked the will to take the same tact. Think what would have happened had President Obama had the political instincts of Lyndon Johnson. I’m not sure we would necessarily have been better off, but the much of the agenda that President Obama ran on would have been enacted into law. Lyndon Johnson and Nancy Pelosi would have made a formidable team, much to the consternation of the right.
Obama's substantial leadership failing is not to be confused with the leadership failing called into question by the Republicans. The Republican leadership takes pride in being the party of no: no to any and all judicial and administrative appointments, no to any bills. Just look at the record. Even when the Democrats virtually cave into Republican demands in crafting legislation, the far right remains inclined to defeat the final bill just to deprive Obama of any sense of accomplishment.
President Obama has no influence with the Republicans on the hill and will never have any. His attempts at compromise were never reciprocated in any meaningful way. In fact, his personal involvement only complicates the problems of Congressional democrats in moving legislation forward. The Republican charge of a lack of leadership is without merit: you can’t lead when you have no chance in influencing Republican behavior. You won’t hear Republicans carp about his larger lack of leadership lest the sleeping dog awake and call for a House and Senate that is willing to work with him to address what he believes are the needs of the country.