09/30/2011 07:10 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2011

Yes, It's Still "The Economy, Stupid," But Presidential Leadership Is the Ultimate Litmus Test

The 2012 Presidential Election may be the most defining political event of the 21st Century. Historians may differ, but it could well be our most important national election since Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr's, in November 1932.

In the absence of a dramatic improvement in the economy and reduction in the number of people who are unemployed, the "economy" and related questions of reduction of our national debt and spending priorities will occupy center stage. Illegal immigration, health care, education, housing, costs of foreign wars and foreign aid, Middle East peace, explosive growth of persons in prison, abortion rights, State and Federal government relationship, will all also be the subjects of repetitive media coverage and candidates' debates and campaign speeches.

Underlying all these issues, however, will be two pervasive and enduring questions whose answers will ultimately dominate the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election:

  1. What kind of values are we committed to as a country?
  2. Who has the leadership ability and capacity to address and effectively resolve these issues?

President Obama and his advisors appear to have come to see also the importance of these questions. In a speech last Sunday he is reported to have said "This is a contest of values... This is a choice about who we are and what we stand for. And whoever wins this next election is going to set the template for this country for a long time to come."

Is the new political governance mantra one that says the federal government is a threat to the daily lives of our people; the least government being the best? Serious proposals have been presented to dismantle the Depts. of Education, Environment Protection and Energy, The Consumer Finance Protection Agency, mandated by the Dodd-Frank legislation, and repeal of The Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act, aka "Sarbanes Oxley" enacted in 2002.

In a period of widening disparity between rich and those who are not rich, and between those who pay little or no taxes and those who pay the most, percentage wise, of taxes, what choices are we prepared to make as country in an effort to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens?

More and more, the question of the capacity for executive leadership and management is emerging as The Principal Issue in the 2012 presidential election. Which candidate has the leadership abilities and proposals most relevant and effective to enable him or her to put together an election voter base to be elected as President of the United States?

This unavoidably requires us to examine the leadership of Obama as president.

Several media pundits are writing and saying that "Obama is getting his "groove back." They cite his bus tour, and recent speeches at different venues throughout the country. Yes, Obama has demonstrated that America will vote for and elect an African-American to become president when they believe his message, and are persuaded that he just might be the person to govern this nation. Now, the nation has some empirical evidence, other than hope for change, to judge President Obama's leadership abilities.

The New York Times in a recent editorial described the challenges confronting Obama.

The Republican template has been in stark view at presidential debates lately. It is a program to wind down the government's longstanding guarantee of health care to the elderly and the poor and incinerate the Democrats' new promise to cover the uninsured; to abolish the Department of Education and its effort to raise national standards; to stop virtually all regulation of the environment and the financial industry; to reimpose military discrimination against gays and lesbians, deport immigrants, cut unemployment insurance and nutrition programs, raise taxes on the poor and lower them for the rich.("An Icy Political Vision", Sept 29th, 2011)

During the course of President's Obama's first term we witnessed the spoken word eloquence of inspiring speeches. As a former speechwriter, on many occasions, when I have gone back to read the actual text of the president's remarks, the content of the speech was often, in spite of its superb verbal delivery, politically "off the mark." On the target, yes; but outside the "bull's-eye" of what should have been said.

More importantly, the president's leadership or lack thereof, seemed to reflect that he and his White House advisors were living in a parallel universe of reality -- a reality contrary to that which the overwhelming majority of people in our nation were experiencing or witnessing.

Killing Bin Laden and more recently Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, in and of themselves, are spectacularly successful military acts. But they are no substitute for the 24/7 365 presidential leadership needed to address and manage solutions for the day-to-day problems confronting our country.

People who are unemployed and/or whose home is in foreclosure, trying to meet the health and food needs of their families may not be current with or knowledgeable about the latest installment of media silliness. This being whether Obama would have said the same thing that he said in his speech to the Annual Dinner of The Congressional Black Caucus last week in Washington, D.C., as he would to a meeting of The Chamber of Commerce or some Jewish or Hispanic organization.

God help us if this is or has become the relevant litmus test of President Obama's leadership to address and manage the nation's problems. Or, more narrowly, the test of his leadership in winning support of African-Americans. We African-Americans aren't so naïve as to confuse the president's injunction "to stop whining and complaining," and cast off our bedroom slippers and put on our "marching shoes" as a substitute for a jobs program or legislation to cease housing foreclosures.

Has the media and some members of the "Black intelligentsia" lost their minds?

This reminded me of President Obama's earlier invitation to Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant Crowley from the Cambridge, Mass police department to come to the White House back yard to have beers following an incident at Professor Gates' home. If the White House or the public viewed this "White House Beer Summit" as an example of a credible effort to confront the issue of race in America, then as I said in last week's blog, quoting Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I know that God is just!

President Obama faces formidable obstacles to his reelection. His past presidential leadership may not constitute a sufficient inspirational template compelling re-election. A significant number of people he inspired to vote for him in November of 2008 feel a sense of disappointment, if not betrayal of the idealism he encouraged.

The recent demonstrations to "Occupy Wall Street" are reflective of a wide-spread perception that Obama, in spite of his criticism of Wall Street, pursued policies in the bail out of the big banks, that shifted the burden of "saving Wall Street "onto the backs of the poor and middle class.

Persons considering Obama's reelection are asking what kind of presidential leadership agreed to renew the Bush tax cuts? What kind of presidential leadership decided to invest virtually all of its initial political capital on passage of a health care bill, without a public option, while concurrently, focusing no significant attention to the mounting unemployment and housing foreclosures?

If the president and his advisors believe that prodigious fund-raising will assure his reelection, they are mistaken. In the real world, his reelection will depend ultimately upon his successful exercise of bold and imaginative executive leadership that a majority of people can come to believe in again; and believe that there is, indeed, a moral line of principle in the political sands of Washington from which a re-elected President Obama will not retreat.