Will the President Ever Quit Straddling the Fence?

We need more than speeches

President Obama is doing a pretty darn good job keeping the country on track. The economy is slowly recovering despite sequestration’s downward pressure. A second war in Afghanistan will soon be over. The budget deficit is starting to recede. We are even seeing a few monthly surpluses.

That is the good news.

The president’s poll numbers have taken a sharp turn as of late. No doubt part of the drop can be attributed to stubborn unemployment numbers, a constant beating from Republicans on three non-scandals, and a Congress that is adrift with no leadership.  The men and women who serve in Congress are souring everyone’s view of government.

But I sense there is one more factor at work.  It is presidential leadership.  Mr. Obama continues to act like a hybrid chief operating officer/chief financial officer.  The country badly needs a Chief Executive Officer who is not afraid to swing for the fences and put forth bold initiatives.

What makes the void in leadership so apparent right now is that the president once went for the gold when he passed his landmark health care act.   That was a long time ago.

No, the attempts at a grand budget reduction bargain fail to meet a presidential leadership threshold.  In fact, a president has no business even being that involved in budget negotiations. They are beneath the office.

A lack of presidential leadership goes back decades.  Starting with Lyndon Johnson we have had a bunch of average, some above, caretaker presidents.  Johnson ushered in historical civil and voting rights acts.  Nixon opened up economic pathways into China. Reagan helped end the Cold War.  Bill Clinton was the best chief operating officer president our nation ever had.  The trains ran on time during his eight years and he left office with a budget surplus.

The last president to strike forth boldly was Jack Kennedy.  JFK, in a little over two and a half years, started the Peace Corps, an Alliance for Progress in Central America, negotiated the first atmospheric test ban treaty, and committed our nation to sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the decade.  He prevented a nuclear war too.

Let us not forget he also began the process that led to the historic civil rights act that Lyndon signed into law.  Had he not been assassinated, there are many who feel the evidence indicated that Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam too.

Like our current president, JFK was a first too, the only Catholic ever elected to the highest office in the land.  Kennedy was saddled with a conservative Congress.  On a relative basis, he faced a Congress that was every bit as tough as today’s.

That never prevented him from leading and offering big ideas to the nation.  And there is a lesson to be learned for President Obama.

My sense is he right on the edge between acting like a president and senator.  If I were advising him, I would start by saying, Mr. President, our nation already has 100 senators, we need a president.  Don’t give in to the doubters who say nothing can be accomplished.

A prime example is his forthcoming announcement on global climate change.  This is small ball.  Jack Kennedy would negotiate a treaty on sustainable development and reorder our nation’s foreign aid program accordingly.  Climate change is an important issue but it is a subset under sustainable development.

Plus climate change is so abstract.  It is nearly impossible for anyone to get their heads around it.  Sure there are some serious indicators (to which I subscribe) but it is not the same as population growth, natural resource usage, clean water, and food scarcity and security to name a few.

I would also tell the president he has a major opportunity to develop the next generation infrastructure initiative–from Maglev trains to new roads and bridges, airports and what is under the ground.  This is where a part of the projected savings from immigration reform should go not to more border security.  Funding from other obsolete government programs can be transferred to modernize our infrastructure.  Think of the jobs that will be created.  No new taxes or funding will be needed.

Last, Mr. President you have a great opportunity to create a new international treaty to fight international terrorism.  No nation is immune from this threat.  A loose nuke that is set off in any country affects us all.

Time is running out on your administration, Mr. President.  You alone can make history the way Jack Kennedy did if you want it bad enough.  I think you do.  That is why I voted for you twice.  Now damn it, act like you are THE President of the United States of America.

What say you, the people?