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Kathleen Reardon Headshot

Waiting for Obama: 60 Minutes of 'Nothing Very Definite'

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Perhaps we are like Samuel Beckett's characters Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot. These men wait for a man they admit to hardly knowing but nonetheless someone they expect to change their lives. They anticipate he will sort out their problems. Yet as they wait and wait, they decide that when he arrives he will do "nothing very definite." Still, they wait.

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Croft about his promise to change Washington:

"That's one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you're campaigning, you, I think you're liberated to say things without thinking about, 'Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.'"

What? Nah! He didn't say that, did he?

The man whom many of us awaited could have replied, with evident conviction: "We are changing Washington and we're going to change it more... " and then told us how.

Okay. I suppose that's water over the dam. And it is very difficult being president. He's also correct when he says it's difficult to get his ideas out there. But being on 60 Minutes is one of those important chances.

Croft later asked about Social Security and Medicare -- "things that the American people really think are important." In his response, the president actually referred to "entitlements," which the Republicans -- who love that word by the way -- are going to have to "confront in a serious way." Excuse me?

Why not say:

Republicans like to talk about earning what you get. That's exactly what people do every pay period when they contribute to Social Security. That's their money. They earned it. That's their nest egg and while I'm president nobody is going to steal it from them.

Or,

Let's be very clear. Diminishing social security in any way is income redistribution. Yes, that's what I said -- exactly what the Republicans say they hate. It's distributing hard-working Americans' income to the rich by way of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Perhaps you sat up a bit when the president was asked about those tax cuts for the wealthy. ("Here it comes. He'll drive it home now.") Then came:

Kroft: Are you ready to compromise on the Bush tax cuts?

Obama: Well, I think we're gonna have to have a serious conversation about it. Here's an example where I'd like to think we could at least settle on those things we agree on.

"Have a serious conversation and settle?" Is Obama kidding? Is that his idea of a strong negotiation stance going in? Instead, how about:

"I'm not going to stand by while tens of millions of Americans whose lives are in disarray subsidize the plush lifestyles of the top one percent."

Or,

"If you take earned money from the hard working people struggling to get by and give it to the rich, what else can you call it but robbery?"

Or,

"I didn't get elected as president to give away the store to the big guy on the corner just because he thinks he's tough. That isn't going to happen."

Maybe you're thinking that he doesn't quite get it yet. And so we should wait. But how often does he have to be told?

When Croft said, "Everybody in Washington writes about your aloofness," the president accepted it as a fair argument. He could have said:

"Intense also looks a lot like aloof. And I'm intensely involved in what's best for the middle class and all Americans."

If an otherwise rational person keeps doing something over and over despite seeing that it doesn't work, what does that mean? It usually means they're doing exactly what they want to do, and that their primary goal isn't the stated one.

I hate to say that, but in my experience it's true. Having studied and coached leaders, it appears to me that President Obama is engaged in "strategic ambiguity." He thinks vagueness is giving him room to maneuver to the right, left, or center because that could be good for him in the long term.

Otherwise, why wouldn't he use his Harvard education, remove the advisers George Bush left on his doorstep when the last chair was removed, and overhaul the most crucial parts of the government in terms of the economy? Why doesn't he get moving on job stimulation? Why doesn't he speak to the Republicans in the forceful, action-backed language they understand?

Waiting may indeed be in vain unless and until we hear the president say like he means it: "Meet me in the Senate guys because we're going to go some tough rounds." In Republican speak that means, "Bring it on" 'cause with or without you, "We're going to "Git 'er done."

Dr. Reardon's new book is Comebacks at Work and she blogs at comebackatwork.com and bardscove.