Saturday Night Live recently did a skit listing Obama accomplishments with 60 votes – 3 whip up the screen. The mainstream media has taken up the meme that President Obama’s failures are due to America becoming ungovernable. The problem is not with the system. The problem is with the man elected by the system to lead.
Those of us who opposed his candidacy from the outset were written off as racists by his supporters. Instead of listening to us and considering our opinions, they brushed us off as ignorant red necks who hated black people. They never were broad minded enough to take our criticism seriously.
We pointed out that Obama had leaped from one elected to position to another with the help of powerful patrons, and that he had not done much in any of his positions. We worried about placing someone with no executive decision making experience into the nation’s highest office where all he would do was make executive decisions. We pointed out how he was all things to all men – a cipher that eventually would be forced to reveal himself because there was simply no where else for him to go. There was no higher office than the one he coveted, so he would finally be forced to perform the job he was hired to do.
His supporters were caught up in the symbolism of electing a black man to the nation’s highest office. While they called opponents like me racists, they were the ones focused on race. They weren’t in love with Obama’s policies; they were in love with themselves for supporting a black man in his quest for power. It alleviated the guilt they have carried throughout their lives for being born white.
Being black doesn’t make you a good leader. Cities from New York to Chicago have had black mayors, yet they’ve proven to be just as corrupt as the white men and a woman (in the case of Chicago) they’ve replaced. But this was a reality that was forgotten in the symbolism of electing a black president to electing a nation that had once dragged black people to its shores in chains.
Symbols often make terrible leaders, especially when they symbolize such shallow and selfish desires of those who follow them. Usually symbols succeed when they are leaders first who become symbols due to fate. Winston Churchill was already a skilled leader when the Blitz rained terror from the skies in England. His tenacity and calm facing the ferocity of the German war machine made him a symbol of a people that would “fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Even Gandhi knew that as a symbol of Indian independence he needed the political acumen of Jawaharlal Nehru to actually lead the Indian people after independence.
Perhaps Obama already knows this. It could explain why he outsourced health care reform to Congress instead of creating a plan of his own and exercising his leadership to sell it to Congress and the American people. Maybe he simply didn’t know how to lead the effort because he never had to lead before. Similarly the months of fretting over the surge of troops in Afghanistan can be best explained by a neophyte leader better at being a symbol than in making decisions. Why had the decision taken so long – especially one which enjoyed broad bi-partisan support? Maybe it’s not because it upset his pacifist supporters as some on the right – including me – have alleged; perhaps it took so long because he simply lacked the experience of making timely difficult decisions.
For the past year I have been attributing his decision making failures to complex reasons like trying to move the country hard to the left. Instead a simpler explanation and one that may fit the facts better is that President Obama is a man who is a great symbol but a terrible leader.
America isn’t ungovernable after all. Obama is simply a bad leader. It’s not the first time America has had bad leaders in its highest elected office. Even Obama’s personal hero Abraham Lincoln stumbled badly in his first years in office, first by preventing the breakup of the Republic and later by outsourcing the war to incompetent generals. He was only redeemed in the final years of his presidency.
Can Obama do the same? Lincoln faced reality and changed how he governed. At this point in his presidency I do not see President Obama doing the same. He is too quick to blame others and unable or incapable of recognizing his own faults. President Jimmy Carter had a similar problem, and those of us who remember his Hamlet-like deliberations in the White House Rose Garden see more similarities between him and Obama than between Abraham Lincoln and our current president.