In this election year, the attention of the media and of the voters has turned increasingly to issues of leadership.
Leadership is a difficult role, requiring knowledge of the tasks of the organization and a wide variety of organizational skills, including an ability to inspire support, to select and manage subordinates, and to work with critics. Self-knowledge, emotional stability and awareness of one’s narcissistic tendencies are also essential.
In addition, the leader’s political support inevitably involves a close communicative and emotional relationship between himself and his followers, a kind of emotional duet that sets up the expectations and constraints on him.
Barack Obama came into office on a great wave of hope and expectation, reflected in such slogans as “Yes We Can,” “Change You Can Believe In” and “Hope and Change.” He was seen by some as a messiah who would rid us of a faltering economy, bitter and divisive internal quarrels over foreign wars, and the general sense of things gone wrong.
Many felt that as the first black president, he also embodied the ideals of equality and opportunity so central to our national ethos.
But things go bad when messianic hopes are unfulfilled. As he assumed office, Obama was faced with a severe economic crisis, and he made some grandiose promises such as: “If I don’t have this (economic recovery) done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
But the economic problems received short shrift as the administration pursued radical domestic reforms that included a redistribution of wealth and a government takeover of the nation’s healthcare.
Obama was woefully unequipped to lead — that is, to set priorities and devise strategies. He lacked previous experience with leadership in any sizeable organization; made unwise, inept senior appointments, such as Attorney General Eric Holder, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; and failed miserably to work constructively with his critics.
In short, he has appeared to be overwhelmed by the substantive demands of the job.
Rather than analyzing realistically many causes and the range of possible remedies of the nation’s slow economic growth, Obama has chosen to demonize the administration of George W. Bush (and his supposed cronies — rich, self-serving, damn-the-poor-and-middle-class capitalists). He has blamed various sources of economic “head winds,” including the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the European debt crisis.
By adopting this strategy — arguably a necessary one in view of the dismal objective measures of his administration’s performance — Obama has abandoned the role of a unifying, benevolent messiah and instead become the highly partisan Fight Leader waging war against his political foes.
The president has ruled increasingly by fiat. From the beginning, Obama and congressional Democrats rejected any sort of bipartisanism, consistently ignoring congressional Republicans.
Even since he lost the majority in the House and the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Obama has continued his “imperial presidency” — ironically, the Left’s term of derision for the administration of Richard Nixon — by relying extensively on executive orders and arbitrary, extra-legal actions of federal agencies.
On the Heritage Foundation’s blog, Matthew Spalding recently offered a number of examples of the president’s utter disregard for “the powers of the legislative branch in favor of administrative decision-making without — and often in spite of — congressional action,” and of simply deciding not to enforce laws duly enacted by Congress.
As Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel put it so well: “Mr. Obama proposes, Congress refuses, he does it anyway.”
Many observers have noted the extraordinary frequency of the pronoun “I” in the president’s speeches, which suggests his preoccupation with himself. The president’s fight mode also reflects a narcissistic defense of his own image.
Political discourse that consists of little more than endless repetition of the same talking points, and incessant “gotcha” attacks traded by principals and their surrogates, is increasingly souring Americans on the whole process — and we’re still more than three months from the election.
Another important dimension of President Obama’s role has been that of Dependency Leader. He sees himself as The One who will take care of America’s poor and defenseless. This role dovetails with his role as Fight Leader:
The other party is characterized as caring only about “millionaires and billionaires.” The president’s opponents are attacked relentlessly as hard-hearted special interests who don’t care if the poor get poorer, starve and go without medical care.
Voters could be excused for wondering what, exactly, the president stands for. As reporter Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times on July 13, sometimes the “cyber-Barack Obama” is “at odds with the flesh-and-blood version.”
He related how the president “voiced his familiar lament that ‘there is so much negativity and so much cynicism’ in politics that he could understand if voters tuned out the election,” although “minutes earlier on Twitter, he had written, ‘Why Mitt Romney’s end date at his buyout firm matters,’” with a link to a blog post about the trumped up controversy over Romney’s departure from Bain Capital. The Obama campaign has continued to focus on this and other related non-issues.
One of the president’s advisers described his actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” Unfortunately, under Obama’s leadership the nation is falling farther and farther behind.