A diverse group of presidents - Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton - relied on the advice of David Gergen. While he had something to say on substance from his broad background in academia and journalism, his real value was that he could say "Mr. President, I believe that there is a perspective that you have not considered." It is a shame for Obama and the country that the inner circle of Biden, Axelrod, Emanuel, Jarrett, and Michelle does not seem to have room for such a voice.
As great an orator as Obama is, he missed the class on leadership where they talked about the wisdom of seeking advice which conflicts with your own preconceptions. One result has been the tin ear of the staff sycophants with ideas such as gathering e-mails from opponents of Obama's health care policies, distributing lesson plans for students to write how they could help the president, and plans for a National Endowment of the Arts search for projects to praise the president. Dear Leader , indeed!! Another has been the appointment process which initially was tone deaf relative to tax cheats, and later with such bomb-throwers as Van Jones. On health care, it would have helped greatly if somebody had told him that the public wouldn't buy the Big Lie - that we can insure 45 million people and pay for it by taking "waste and fraud" out of Medicare/Medicaid, his model for the ultimate "single payer" system. And with the government owning General Motors, Chrysler, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and a bunch of bank warrants, it would be great if somebody were whispering in his ear who had actually worked in the private sector. The central problem - from Management 401 - is thinking that you are smart enough to understand not just the facts, but also the point of view that drives conflicting opinions.
President Obama began his recent speech to the Wall Street leaders about the need for regulatory reform with the notion that the economy has been stabilized, thanks to the leadership of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Christina Romer, and, after a pause to insert something not in the prepared text, "and others". Someone should have suggested that he slip into his credits the three people who were most responsible for pulling us back from the brink - Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Sheila Bair - the latter two Republican carry-overs from the Bush administration. That would have been credible statesmanship rather than the traditional Washington gamesmanship which he so frequently derides. If the objective is progress, he should have been reminded of the old saw that it is amazing how much a group can get done when it doesn't matter who gets the credit. Not if he hasn't transitioned from the candidate of the Democrats to the president of all of the people.
Going forward, there are big issues on which Obama would benefit from listening to contrary views - nuclear energy if we really want to be green; a Pakistan-centric view of South Asia if we wish to manage the priority threats; a real effort to curb deficits as we emerge from the recession. If he is not as arrogant as he often appears, he will learn a lesson from the aggressive public push back on health care, and recognize that public opinion, basic economics, or world events will eventually punish him for allowing only Nancy Pelosi and his Leftist political inner circle to shape his policies before he gives his lecture to the masses. And he will realize that the people know that Joe Wilson was right.
David Gergen is still available.
This week's You Tube is presented with apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford.
bill bowen - 9/18/09