The President of course has no interest in becoming my buddy whatsoever. Sadly it's worse than that. It is now one year since his ascendancy to the White House and it appears he wants to become everyone's friend. After the austere and imposing setting in which he delivered his State of the Union address the president thought nothing of undoing that "Presidential" moment by traveling the very next day for a badly focused, undisciplined town hall meeting in Tampa where he laid himself bare to a cheering partisan crowd, repeating much of what he said the night before in fractured terms, hailing the advent of bullet trains and stumbling through a free for all question and answer period. It was embarrassing and in terms of the cost to perception of his office, particularly damaging.
This nation at this time is at as dangerous a crossroads as it was at the beginning of the Second World War, economically, politically and at mortal risk of attack to our interests abroad and to the homeland. Our foreign policy is a shambles, our economic policy barely a step behind, our sense of self and who and what we are, at its lowest ebb since the 1930's.
What is desperately needed is leadership and the nurturing of those trappings of tradition that have seen us through difficult times before. We don't need a president who wants to hang out with us, we need a president who understands the enormous symbolic power of his office and uses it to rally us to do all that we need to climb out of our current abyss.
Consider FDR. Yes it was a different time with different technologies at hand, but we barely knew we had a physically crippled president. And when he had something important to communicate, he let us listen over the radio to his fireside chats. He was not accessible in an everyday, everywhere way, but we knew he was there and he conveyed confidence and leadership.
And then there was Ole Harry Truman who meant it when he said the "buck stops with me". He clearly understood that those whom he appointed would be the best and brightest to serve the nation. That was his criteria, pure and simple.
To repeat the apocryphal story, when he was about to appoint General George C. Marshall as Secretary of State one of his aids, in embarrassed, hushed tones leaned over to the president and advised, "Mr. President, General Marshall has made it known that he feels he is more qualified than you, and that he, rather than you, should be serving as president". President Truman, bemused, looked as his aide and intoned as best he could, "You know, young man, he's damn right!" The rest is history.
And this was the same president, who when the time came and his service to the nation had become a risk to its well being, could dismiss one of our great war hero's, General Douglas MacArthur, who would arrive back to his country's shores from the Korean campaign to the acclamation of hundreds of thousands in a ticker tape welcoming parade through Lower Manhattan. Where is President Obama's sense of accountability? Competence of service in high government office need be the sine qua non demanded, and not a buddy quotient or whatever else comes into play.
When Janet Napolitano, as Director of Homeland Security had a system in place that was so lax in its oversight and ability to connect the dots that the sabotage attempt over Detroit was averted only miraculously through the courage of the passengers on board, the buck stopped clearly at her desk. And then to exacerbate this grim failing by boasting the next day that "the system worked" shows a level of tone-deafness that cries out for the need that her talents be taken elsewhere. She wouldn't have lasted under Harry Truman nor FDR. They clearly understood what it meant, "the buck stops with me". After all, at Homeland Security our safety and our lives depend on it as it most certainly did on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
By taking decisive action where it needs be taken and where he has the clear authority to act and hold appointees accountable, the president can do much to bring back to the presidency the respect it once held.
And that attains to his penchant for accessibility. The bully pulpit has always been a great instrument of policy. It is tragic to reduce its authority to the equivalent of the faux-gravitas of Sunday Morning Talking Heads programs.
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