Thursday, December 20, 2012

Obama's Style

The amount of excitement generated by the election of America's first biracial president focused attention on his first few days in office. How would he govern? Historian Edward Klein notes that, early in his administration,

Obama indicated that he had a preference for a corporatist political system in which the economy would be collectively managed by big employers, big unions, and government officials through a formal mechanism at the national level. Also known as state capitalism, it is a system in which the government picks winners and promotes economic growth.

Barack Obama expressed a preference for what is commonly called "crony capitalism," which is very different than free market capitalism. In a free market, all the players take risks: they all have the same chances to win or lose. In Obama's "crony capitalism," the government intervenes in the market to favor one company over another.

Edward Klein interviewed a guest who had attended a dinner at the White House - the guest spoke on the condition of anonymity - who said that

Since the beginning of his administration, Obama hasn't been able to capture the public's imagination and inspire people to follow him. Vision isn’t enough in a president. Great presidents not only have to enunciate their vision; they must lead by example and inspiration. Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the individual. He and Ronald Reagan had the ability to make each American feel that the president cared deeply and personally about them.

That quality has been lacking in Obama. People don't feel that he's on their side. The irony is that he was supposed to be such a brilliant orator, but in fact he’s turned out to be a failure as a communicator. And his failure to connect with people has had nothing to do with the choice of his words or how well he nothing to do with the choice of his words or how well he delivers his speeches. It's something much more fundamental than that.

The American people have come to realize that, in Barack Obama, they elected a man as president who does not know how to lead. He lacks an executive sense. He doesn't know how to run things. He's not a manager. He hasn’t been able to bring together the best and brightest talents. Not to put too fine a point on it, he’s in over his head.

Experienced leaders share this view of Obama. Secretary of State James Baker, seeing the chaos in the White House as different advisers and appointees strove to keep themselves informed, noted that

All this comes from the fact that, before he became president, Obama never had the responsibility for running anything. He’s a policy wonk; he's very smart, very knowledgeable. But he was a community organizer, and a community organizer doesn’t have the lines of authority that you have when you're running an organization.

Voters had been fascinated by the fact that Obama would be the nation's first biracial president. After he took office, the public saw his policies gradually take shape, and his management skills put to the test. Edward Klein writes:

Obama's handling of the 2009 fiscal crisis showed an alarming lack of experience and a complete ignorance of how Washington works. For instance, during the presidential race, Obama campaigned against earmarks — the notorious legislative gimmick used by congressmen and senators to allocate funds for favorite projects in their home districts. Yet, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent an omnibus spending bill with $8 billion worth of earmarks to the White House, Obama na├»vely believed Pelosi and Reid, who told him that that was the only way he could get his $800 billion stimulus bill passed. Obama signed the omnibus spending bill with all the earmarks intact, signaling that the barons of Capitol Hill could roll the amateurish president.

Whether his comments during the campaign were made out of idealism or out of calculation, when Obama was in office, the public gained a more accurate perception, both of his ideals and of his skills.