October 1, 2009

The Pose of Thoughtfulness

As the president dithers on Afghanistan and Iran, and outsources tough decisions on major domestic legislation to Congress, Jen Rubin says he remains in campaign mode...

Iran and Afghanistan policies are adrift while the president chases to catch up to unanticipated disclosures (from his own military and from Iran), foreign leaders push forward to assert themselves, and congressional leaders pull this way and that on everything from Afghanistan troop levels and funding to gasoline sanctions for Iran. The president mulls and meets, while others wrestle with breaking developments. The space usually occupied by a forceful commander in chief seems empty–and, as with all vacuums, will be filled by others.

On the domestic agenda, are we closer to a health-care reform bill than we were when Congress left for vacation in August? It doesn’t seem that way. Cap-and-trade? It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. And we’ll get new unemployment numbers on Friday, followed to be sure by some head-shaking and sympathetic words from the White House press room. But Obama will be in Geneva. Who’s in charge here? Certainly not the president.

This should come as no surprise to those who followed the campaign. This was precisely Obama’s modus operandi. He said nothing for days when Russia invaded Georgia and then slowly moved closer to his opponent’s position. He was mute on the economic crisis, letting John McCain knock himself out racing to and from Washington. Then he was praised for “calm” and his supposedly ”superior temperament.” But he was stalling–just as he is now. He allowed events to swirl and a sympathetic media to fill in the blanks. He met with panels of advisers but rarely said what he would do. He never asserted himself, perhaps because he didn’t know what to say or because he feared the criticism if he announced a position.

That, like so many other attributes, works fine in a campaign. It’s potentially disastrous for a president. We are now experiencing the consequences of electing an essentially passive figure who slipped by on charisma and the pose of thoughtfulness. At some point, presidents much choose, lead, negotiate, challenge, and direct. We elect someone to perform as chief executive and commander in chief, not as pundit in chief or media critic.

We see this in the workplace—someone is great in an interview but a poor job performer. Obama proved to be a world-class interview, but he’s quickly earning a reputation as an underachiever. If it keeps up, the people who hired him will start looking for a replacement.

Start looking?

Posted by dan at October 1, 2009 11:09 AM