President Obama's "What Me Worry?" State of the Union address brings into focus the question of leadership. For reference I look to John Kotter's Harvard Business School opus, Leading Change. Steps include: establishing a sense of urgency; creating a guiding coalition; developing a vision and strategy; communicating the change vision; and generating short term wins. Lets look beyond the speeches to Obama's first two years.
Important subjects of potential bipartisan support:
1. TARP. Began as $700 billion fund to buy or guarantee toxic assets (real estate derivatives.) Passed under Bush. Restructured by Hank Paulson. Used creatively to save the auto and banking industries. Geithner/Obama didn't screw it up.
2. Stimulus. Deferred to Nancy Pelosi who made it a $787 billion grab bag of pork and earmarks. Perhaps give a pass to the rookie president.
3. Healthcare. Deferred to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to design and pass. Gave lots of speeches. Corruption of Reid's process to buy votes inflamed the Tea Party. A signature achievement of the administration.
4. Afghanistan. Dithered for a year before deciding to get in and get out ... or not.
5. Middle East. No pressure on Israel / Palestinians to settle the core problem. Let Hillary, Biden, and Gibbs comment on protests engulfing the Middle East. No support for allies; no statement of principles beyond 2009 Cairo speech which was less forceful than Condi Rice's 2005 Cairo speech.
Important subjects to the Liberal base:
1. Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Somehow got passed by the lame duck Senate. Obama AWOL.
2. Cap and Trade. Passed by Pelosi; ignored by Reid. Guerrilla war being engaged by the EPA through regulations.
4. Card Check. Abandonment of signature union objective to ease union organization.
5. Closing Gitmo. Let Holder try to move cases to New York. Eventually moved back to Bush's military commissions. Indefinite detention in Cuba for the hard core.
6. Immigration. Let the DREAM Act languish in Congress. Attacked Arizona without proposing actionable alternative.
And now the subject of primary national importance, getting finances in order.
1. Not a peep when Pelosi's House doesnt' even propose a budget.
2. Appoints a Deficit Reduction Commission with a promise that it is not just another Washington effort ot sweep a problem under the rug. Commission makes specific comprehensive recommendations. Obama ignores.
3. Gives a State of the Union address which ignores $1.5 trillion deficit in current budget, $14 trillion debt, real 17% unemployment, and financial meltdowns in other countries. Notes "Sputnik moment"; calls for solar panels and trains. Bashes "earmarks" after approving thousands and Republicans commit that there will be no more.
4. Waiting for Paul Ryan to present Republican budget, healthcare proposals, and propositions for reforming entitlement programs. Assumes that public will respond negatively to "meanspirited" Republican attack on popular government programs. Refocuses staff on 2012 election. Republicans decide to trust the good sense of the American people and carry the financial responsibility mantle.
Scroll back up to the first paragraph to review Prof. Kotter's definition, and see if there is a single subject on which President Obama has exhibited leadership. Instead, the style is to let his wishes be known, then let the various forces driving action go their own ways. My favorite quotation is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." How refreshing that would be.
This week's video is an Egyptian television interpretation of a January 29 interview with Robert Gibbs. One can imagine being a pro-American leader of Yemen, Columbia, Jordan, or Poland and wondering about the implications of America's financial bankruptrcy, the Wikileaks-induced inability to have a confidential discussion with the US ambassador, and the likely support that you would get from President Obama in a crisis. It would be nice if one believed that Obama were having conversations with a legion of our allies.