There seems to be a fundamental law of politics that every president who wins a second term soon runs into trouble and spends his final years in office limping along ineffectually or worse ricocheting from one disaster to another. Stuff happens. The Federal Government is a vast unwieldy enterprise, Congress is balky and the judiciary is inscrutable. The Federal Reserve is doing its own thing. The world is chaotic and resistant to U.S. influence. It's hard to make everyone sing in tune, really hard.
To be effective, a president must be a superb communicator, not just in terms of speaking but also in terms of listening. He needs strong willed people around him who will give him hard news, and he also needs to listen to his most critical opponents. President Obama is intelligent and means well, but he is a loner by nature and virtually bereft of experience in managing large organizations. He doesn't seem to grasp the subtle dynamics of imposing his will on a large organization. He too often finds himself out of touch with the reality of running the Executive Branch.
How else can we explain his aloof detachment amid one catastrophe after another, his curious indifference and refusal to hold subordinates accountable? He proclaims a "red line" against use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then takes no action. Our ambassador in Benghazi, Libya and others are left defenseless to be killed by terrorists, but he doesn't call anyone to account. The Internal Revenue Service runs amok targeting conservative groups for tax audits, but he affects not to notice anything wrong. He was informed that our security agencies were eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders, but did nothing until it blew up in his face.
Now the great health care reform fiasco is threatening to sabotage President Obama's signature legislation that was supposed to be his crowning achievement. As this story unfolds drip by embarrassing drip, it is clear the system was not ready for prime time. It is a given of modern life that any new computer based system has to be beta tested extensively to work out the bugs. In the weeks leading up to the launch of Obamacare, there were credible warnings within and without the government that the system was far from ready. We are told he did not know that the web site launch had major problems. That is not acceptable. He should have been aware. Impartial observers are left to scratch their heads wondering who if anyone in the White House is minding the store.
Like most Americans, I would like the president to succeed. But if he does not collect himself and reassert his grasp of what is happening, and soon, his administration will go into the history books as unable to execute the many promises President Obama has made.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. November 2013
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