A Presidential Problem

I’ve made it clear here before that I think the primary responsibility for resolving the debt-ceiling limit issue resides with Congress.  They are supposed to establish how the government spends its (our) money–the President only has to sign off or veto their legislation.  If a President wants to give Congress some guidelines as to what he will accept or reject, more power to him, but according to the Constitution, Congress is responsible for this.

That being said, President Obama has tried to take charge of the debt-ceiling debate, but in the final days both Houses of Congress seem to be working independently from him.  Why couldn’t he make things happen?  I read an interesting comment in the Washington Post online about the President’s inexperience and it made me think.

Barack Obama is not the youngest man to become President.  We’ve had two Democrats who were younger, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and one Republican, Teddy Roosevelt.  Kennedy served in the House and the Senate and fought in World War Two.  Clinton avoided military service, but he served several terms as Governor of Arkansas, so he had a lot of leadership experience and he had a lot of practice working with a legislature.  Teddy Roosevelt fought in the Spanish American War, and he was Governor of New York.

What about President Obama?  He was a community organizer (to be honest, I don’t know what that entails, but I imagine it was less stressful than taking on the Japanese or Spanish militaries), and he served less than one term in the Senate.  And half the time he was in the Senate, he was traveling around running for President.  The point is that President Obama does not have the kind of life experience or political experience to know how best to deal with the unique culture that is the leadership of the United States Congress.

One complaint that defenders of the President have made is that his critics can’t get their stories straight.  Is Obama a product of the Chicago thugocracy or a weak leader?  Is he arrogant in his dealings with others or too deferential?  Critics have made all of these accusations, the defenders say, so why can’t they make up their minds?  It is a good point.  On the other hand, maybe the problem is that at different times the President, or members of his staff, have drawn these criticisms because they have struggled to find a leadership style they are comfortable with.

Unfortunately, when you’re the President you don’t get any practice crises.  You’re stuck under the microscope, and most of what you do has big consequences.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”   I wonder what he had to say about inconsistency?