11/12/2010 03:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Could This Be 'Learning on the Job'?

That was one of the criticisms of candidate Barack Obama -- that he would be learning on the job how to be president. It seemed a bit scary, but worth the risk as he had so much to offer. But now, don't you find yourself wishing he would learn on the job?

Take the "clarification" by the president that followed David Axelrod's interview with The Huffington Post. "We need to deal with the world as we find it," Axelrod bemoaned as a reason for extending tax cuts for the wealthy. After an onslaught of anger and to avoid allowing that comment to stand, President Obama endeavored to clear the air.

"Here's the right interpretation," Obama told a gathering of reporters on Friday. "I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle-class families starting on January 1st. That is my number-one priority for those families and for our economy... I also believe that it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to permanently extend the high-income tax cuts."

Is it any wonder that the presumptive House Speaker John Boehner is talking about permanent tax cuts for the wealthy when the president anchors his negotiations with a giveaway?

If, indeed, the plan actually is to decouple middle-class tax breaks from those for the wealthy, then the president's future clarifications should sound more like this:

We are going to the mat for the middle class. That's the right interpretation. If some Republicans want to deny the middle class to make a few more of their wealthy friends wealthier, they can try. But we're not going to give in to political bullying or blackmail.

If this is too direct for him, how about this response to John Boehner:

Of course he wants it all. But I wasn't elected president to make John Boehner happy. And the Democrats in the House and Senate aren't about to do that either. We answer to the American people, not solely the wealthiest among them. The path is clear and we're going to take it obstacles and all.

Some people believe you shouldn't tell the president what to say. I know, it can be annoying. But that's what I do for a living -- teach and advise people at all levels of their careers how to say what they mean more effectively. Besides, how long can anyone keep quiet when he says things that make you wonder what he was doing all those years at Harvard?

I've written in Comebacks at Work and in other articles and books a host of ways to deal with bullies and tough guys. It isn't by letting them think you're a newbie on the block or, as Paul Krugman writes, giving them more "mush from the wimp."

The best evidence of learning on the job would be for the president to demonstrate by words and actions that he hasn't had a personality transplant since the election. Otherwise, if this new guy is really him, he should cease to say much of anything because he just keeps giving away the farm.

Kathleen also blogs at and bardscove and can be found on Twitter.