06/12/2013 01:41 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

The Helm

Do you have a sense that "they" are in charge? Kind of Matrix-like?

Now we find that they are preventing the State Department's IG from doing its job and covering up drug deals, an ambassador going to a park for rendezvous with prostitutes, and more. They are at the National Security Agency and their myriad of contractors on the Beltway and in Hawaii while monitoring our every phone call and email via Prism and god knows what else. They are embedded in IRS as they party at tax payers' expense. They are among the Secret Service in Cartegena enjoying prostitutes while protecting the POTUS. And remember FEMA during and after Katrina? On and on and on.

We may wonder what the hell is happening? Yes, we have had Teapot Dome and far more in American history. But this is, shall we say, an administration that said it would be more transparent and fundamentally better. Doesn't look like it.

I'll tell you what has happened. These are Republican and Democratic administrations asleep at the switch. No, they are not Warren G. Harding. Yet, rather than "governing" by assuming that all will work as it has before and somehow hold together until you open your library and start your $100,000/gig lecturing, why not ask if critical public services are actually functioning. Instead of campaigning, why not try public service? Why not monitor, observe, check -- and demand that malfeasance when reported rewards the whistleblower?

I believe that government can and should have a positive role. My Minnesota youth included figures such as Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Orville Freeman and Walter Mondale. They thought that government served the people. I regret that I now doubt such youthful enthusiasm.

But, almost weekly, the erosion of public trust is accelerated. Why? Answer: those at the helm are controlling neither the tiller nor the wheel.

The "government" is large for good reason - lots of people, lots of problems here and globally. But someone must be the captain.

I also believe in President Obama. Alas, he is a diffident president, and not "into" the expansive presidential role of a Johnson, Reagan or Clinton. Aloof has been one adjective applied, but with that comes intelligence. George W. Bush was neither -- he was out to lunch and often a great punch line. Johnson backslapped more and showed his scars from surgery, Reagan told more jokes and rode his horse. Bill Clinton studied more and could wonk with the best of them. Oh, sure, Clinton's eight years were marred by scandal, but he knew and knows how to explain policy. By the way, what was worse for the nation - Monica or Iraq??

President Obama must, in his final three years, exert far more leadership lest we have a scandal a week. In the past week, a scandal every few days. I am afraid of tomorrow, not because of global terrorism but rather what we will unleash on ourselves...what will it be? More invasions of privacy, more profligate behaviors of public employees, or more school killings?

How can Obama guide this ship of state? He cannot lead by post-tragedy consolation alone or by post-scandal explanation. He will not have the House of Representatives to help. And the "bully pulpit" is an unlikely instrument. He can, however, fire people and appoint or promote others. He can issue administrative orders to executive branch departments. He can endorse the Democratically controlled Senate to invoke the "nuclear option" and end the 60 vote for cloture rule. He can exert the vigor of a democratically elected president in 2014 electoral campaigns. And he can become more a person of emotion, feeling and conviction and leave the laughable teleprompter in the Oval Office.

The President has, in other words, more power and influence than he has thus far been exercising. Time to do so. Indeed, way over time.

Obama can grasp the helm and govern. Albeit, time is short.

Daniel N. Nelson leads a consulting firm in Virginia.