Memo to the President: Lead, Dammit!

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

I voted for you, Mr. President.  I voted for you not merely out of anger at what Bush had wrought, nor merely because voting for you was the obvious response to McCain’s sorry joke of a candidacy.  I voted for you–enthusiastically–because I was energized by the content and the passion of your vision, and because, with our country at a crossroad, I was convinced that you were the transformational leader who could steer us onto a saner, smarter, more responsible course. 

I voted for you because I wanted change–and because you gave me hope.

Now, almost two years later, I’m worried. 

I’m worried about the condition of our economy.  I’m worried about our involvement in Afghanistan.  I’m worried about the paralysis of our government and the nastiness of our politics. 

Mostly, though, I’m worried about you.

The vultures seem to be circling, Mr. President.  And while I think the circling is premature, one can’t help but notice a certain funereal quality in the collective gait of the Democratic rank and file–and in you, too, as their leader.

No doubt, it’s been a brutal two years, Mr. President.  The problems you inherited were unprecedented in their scope and their depth, and the shameful, hateful obstructionism of the Republican opposition has been nothing less than disgusting.  But as one of your supporters, I feel duty bound to express my disappointment and frustration at the part you’ve played in your own dismal current fortunes.

Stated simply, Mr. President:  You’ve been failing to lead.

I’ve chosen my words carefully, Mr. President.  I’ve not said you haven’t been working, I’ve not said you haven’t been trying, and I’ve not said you haven’t been achieving.  Your hard work has been obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.  Your efforts in these joyless, trying times bespeak a jaw-dropping level of commitment and stamina.  And your accomplishments–among them, bringing us back from the brink of a depression and achieving a measure of health insurance and financial reform–have been notable, particularly in light of the spiteful and relentless opposition you’ve encountered.

But despite the hard work, the tireless efforts, and the notable achievements, the public has largely been unimpressed with your performance, Democratic congressional candidates have been running away from your agenda, and the Republican strategy of turning you into a punching bag has encountered no effective pushback–all a result, I submit, of some fundamental leadership failures on your part.  

Specifically, Mr. President, you have failed to lay out and forcefully advocate–in terms the public can easily digest and understand–a bold, overarching plan for our financial recovery.  You have failed to create for the Democratic Party a clear, desirable, believable brand around which the party faithful can rally (“Change” and “Hope” no longer resonate).  And you have failed to punch back–hard, immediately, effectively, with the gloves off–at the mean-spirited opposition whose non-stop jabs, hooks, and uppercuts have been part of a concerted, and very effective, strategy designed both to demonize and to neuter you.

Surrogates and confidantes explain that you’re cerebral; that you’re a consensus builder; that you’re an imperturbably cool administrator who’s not distracted by the passions of the moment.  To them (and to you) I say, simply:  Not good enough. 

You’ll not be on the ballot this November, Mr. President, but your presence will be felt–and not in a positive way.  Partly this will result from the traditional first-term mid-term dip, partly it will result from disaffection with our economy, and partly it will result from the right-wing’s scandalous assault on you.  Clearly, you’ve caused none of these conditions, but just as clearly you could have lessened their negative impact with more effective leadership. 

Where your presidency goes during the next two years depends, at least in part, on where you take it, Mr. President, but if you allowed this lonely voice from the blogosphere only two short words of advice for going forward, they would be these:  Lead, Dammit!

~~Kenn Shapiro

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  1. Obama’s Strategy: First Surrender, Then Beg « Fresh Rhetoric

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