My latest is up at PJ Media where I talk about leadership and Obama’s lack thereof:
The towering personalities of those narratives were largely trapped by forces of history that, try as they might, they couldn’t bend to their will in order to alter destiny. Lincoln put it best when he said, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
Lincoln could only ride the tsunami, not direct it. The ageless desire for freedom, the growing agitation for equality, the westward expansion of peoples and ideas, the rising shame over the sin of slavery, the greed of industrialists, the incomprehensible hypocrisy of a nation that boasted of its freedoms while keeping millions in chains, the emergence of free labor and a nascent labor movement — this and more was in the wave that Lincoln was trying to ride. He was successful only insofar as he was able to identify those things he could control, and those he could not. It was his particular genius, and you certainly can’t expect every president to be gifted with such insight.
But in Barack Obama’s case, events have gotten far the better of him. And most tellingly, he seems unable to see anything that he can control, settling for blaming his predecessor and promising to do better.
In these times, with the challenges he is facing, that simply isn’t good enough.
Obama is riding the wave without realizing he’s even on the water. And to make matters worse, he apparently can’t swim. The analogy of a “deer in headlights” seems harsh but that is a judgment of some of the Washington press corps.
His allies and apologists claim that this demonstrates the president’s “coolness.” Nice try, but that just doesn’t cut it. Coolness is telling your wife when you’re on a stretcher with a bullet an inch from your heart that you hope all the doctors are Republicans. Obama’s “coolness” appears to be an aloofness — perhaps even an arrogance — that manifests itself in the curious way in which he views “leadership.” Giving inspiring speeches is very nice (although it’s been a while since we got one of those), and feeling people’s pain is very politically correct these days.
But political leadership is more than delivering pretty words and demonstrating political empathy. It is projecting the ability — whether it is present or not — to identify a problem and make the rest of us partners in addressing it. Leadership engages those being led, makes them part of the enterprise, inspires confidence that collective action will make a difference. In short, leadership is a two-way street. You can’t lead if no one is willing to follow.
When the president speaks, it is usually to lecture, or to have his rhetoric take flight, mouthing meaningless platitudes that fail to inspire but allowing us to feel good about ourselves. “No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country,” sniffed the president during his speech Monday. Does that inspire you? It seems despairingly banal to me.
In some ways, it’s frightening to consider the idea of a president in over his head. This has been pretty obvious since the stim bill when he farmed out the writing of it to radicals like Pelosi and political hacks like Reid. It is now generally believed even among the president’s supporters that it didn’t work. Of course, they say it’s because it wasn’t big enough. But the fact that a president with a near 70% approval rating couldn’t do just about anything he wanted with huge majorities in both chambers bespeaks a singular lack of leadership on what was supposed to be his administration’s primal thrust.
The bottom line is that Obama doesn’t recognize those things within his control. Events are controlling him, which is a bad place for a leader to be.