The president distrusts transparency. Unless he's ready to tell us the whole story, he prefers to say nothing at all.
Why else does he take forever to explain where he stands? Does he not know? Is he forever weighing the pros and cons? Does he have something to hide? Does he think options need to be kept constantly open? Is he the anti-decider?
He leaves us in the dark about the issues he's dealing with en route to a decision, the obstacles he perceives and the options that lie before him. What are we supposed to think? Why so quiet? Has he sold out? Is he waiting to see which way the wind blows? Who knows? Millions of suffering Americans perceive him to be indifferent - having the luxury of time while they lose their jobs, homes and confidence.
The Republicans have taken the president's protracted silences and his unwillingness to let us in on process, as opportunities to say a lot with little or no rebuttal from the other side. And it has worked for them. It worked for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. When you say nothing in response to opposition, after a while people fill in the blanks. They may think you're outmatched, not who you promised to be, or timid. This is why last week's televised meeting with Republicans unsettled the GOP. Voters saw a man actively being president - not rehearsing for the role.
You have to wonder if indeed President Obama has not found his center yet - his authentic self. In an era of sound bites, it's little wonder that we hardly know him. But we would know him better if he let us in on how he thinks instead of what he has or hasn't yet decided. It's been argued that he needs a narrative. That's not bad. An answer to "What's your story?" might move us closer to the authentic Obama.
More important, though, are a set of core values from which actions and true narratives emanate. "What matters most to you?" is the better question. And then how does what you struggle with and ultimately decide follow from those core values?
"Obama should turn up the heat on both the GOP's record of fiscal recklessness and its mad-dog obstructionism. He should stop paying lip service to the fantasy that his Congressional opposition has serious ideas to contribute to the cleanup. Better still, he should publicize exactly what those 'ideas' are."
Sounds like good advice. But why should the president follow it beyond just striking a base-appealing blow to the opposition? We need to know what values possessed by him support such actions or they're just more showmanship. Which is more important to President Obama, hands joined across the aisle or fighting for what he believes is right? When are both important and when should one be sacrificed in service of the other?
If you were asked to list and rank order five of the president's core values, could you do it with confidence?
At present, the president seems to value one-way collegial gestures more than the courage of his convictions. And that's not going very well, is it? We know he values civility, but at what cost? Honesty? Courage?
Who among us minds heated words now and then in the service of our values? But we do mind when everything we see and hear is contrived or seems to come out of the blue. If there's a trust deficit, it's because of this.
We often don't mind when leaders make mistakes, if we're apprised along the way of the process that led to them. It's the only way to differentiate between honest slip-ups, deviousness and ineptitude.
Left to our own devices, or worse, leaving it to highly vocal Republicans, we will surely fill in the blanks that President Obama so often neglects. He trusts his ability to set it all straight in the end. And that worked for him as a candidate. But he is the president now. People won't follow a leader whose actions they can't predict or explain. They simply won't rally to support a President whose values they cannot even identify.
Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.