My disappointment with Obama has been growing since summer '09. I've been trying to figure out whether that's an unfair response on my part, or whether my discontent arises from significant failures on Obama's part.
It's not that Obama is a clear disaster. In fact, it's hard when you're president not to have some solid accomplishments, which I realized when I tried to come up with the ultimate failed president, and couldn't find one disastrous enough. (Governor of Arizona Evan Mecham is probably the gold standard of executive failure.)
So the problem isn't total absence of accomplishment, but a pattern of lapses in leadership. It's easy for steadfast supporters to argue against this perception as being subjective. However, these types of judgments are important when evaluating leadership, and voters do this naturally during an election cycle. Here are my complaints about Obama's leadership:
- Not up for the fight
- Doesn't take it to the people
- Gets glum and doesn't do anything
- Misreads mood (sputnik moment falls flat)
- Didn't rein in house Democrats
Many of these are a symptom of not being comfortable as president after his previous role as legislator. For example, Obama was largely absent from the work hammering out the health bill, even after things were just grinding in Congress. Despite his campaign promise that the work would be done in the open, he allowed the House Democrats to negotiate it in secret. The procedure used by Congress left them open to legitimate charges of favoritism to supporters (unions) and must-win senators, not aiming for a smaller sized bill, and ill-defined charges like ramming it down America's throat.
Now, Obama doesn't control either the House or Senate, but he could have let them know, in the way politically influential figures do, what he expected in terms of content and process. Instead, he let the Congressional Democrats do their thing and make stupid choices that cost them dearly in elections since 2008.
Such periods of inattention or inaction have occurred too often. Just to show what I mean, here's a timeline of significant milestones or achievements:
- 1/20/09 - Inauguration
- 1/22/09 - No Torture policy
- 1/29/09 - Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed
- 2/4/09 - SCHIP (child health insurance plan) expansion
- 2/17/09 - Stimulus bill signed
- 2/27/09 - Iraq withdrawal announced
- 3/9/09 - Cancellation of F-22 aircraft
- 3/11/09 - Budget passed
- 3/30/09 - Auto bailout plan announced
- 4/3/09 - Goodwill tour of NATO alllies
- 4/13/09 - New Cuba policy
- 5/22/09 - Credit Card Act signed
- 6/4/09 - Goodwill tour of Arab states
- 6/26/09 - Cash for Clunkers signed
- 6/26/09 - Swiss bank disclosure agreement negotiated
- 6/27/09 - Iraq troop withdrawal begins
- 10/22/09 - Vets Budget Reform Act signed
- 11/6/09 - First Time Home Buyers program extended
- 12/1/09 - Afghan policy (surge) announcement
- 12/9/09 - Nobel Peace Prize acceptance
- 2/18/10 - Deficit commission formed
- 3/23/10 - Health care reform bill signed (Obamacare)
- 4/20/10 - Ban on offshore oil drilling implemented after BP spill
- 7/21/10 - Wall Street Reform Act signed
- 10/12/10 - Offshore drilling ban lifted
- 12/3/10 - Deficit commission fails to get minimum 14 votes needed
- 12/10/10 - Bush Tax cuts extended
- 12/27/10 - DADT repeal passes
- 2/2/11 - START treaty ratification begins
- 5/1/11 - Bin Laden killed
- 7/29/11 - New mileage standards agreement
- 8/2/11 - Debt ceiling deal
The timeline shows a massive slowdown in actions after June 2009, and only 5 significant events in 2010 prior to the mid-term elections. He picked up the ball again only since the debt ceiling agreement this year. That's over two years of relative inactivity, which is inexcusable in my opinion.
My two biggest complaints about Obama's leadership:
- Obama should have followed the Clinton model of moderating the leftish tendencies of the party. That side of the Democratic party, including many in the House, resented the heavy hand of the Clintons and cheered the end of their centrist Democratic Leadership Conference. They were hoping that Obama would give them a free hand. They got their wish and sowed their own downfall.
- After mistakenly letting Congress take forever on the healthcare and Wall Street bills, Obama could have regained momentum in 2010 by tackling the next biggest problem--the mounting debt. Since it wasn't on his agenda, the field was wide open for anyone to grab the issue, which the Tea Party did. Thus our current situation.
Resources: Best list of accomplishments (not too short, not the kitchen sink), timeline
Update December '12. I'm leaning towards blaming Pelosi for her part in a somewhat runaway Congress.