Over the last two years, and perhaps especially over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the lack of leadership demonstrated by Barack Obama in his presidency. He declined to lead on Porkulus and ObamaCare, pushing off the actual writing and selling mainly to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on both bills. Obama didn’t bother to demand a budget from his own party leadership while they controlled Congress, and now he’s been mainly AWOL now that Republicans have control of the House, except to falsely claim that Democrats have met Republicans “halfway” on budget cuts. Even his official envoy to the budget talks, Joe Biden, took a powder after a single meeting.
The Associated Press reports today that this is no accident, but an “above the fray strategy“:
Call it an above-the-fray strategy.
On hot issues that Democrats and Republicans have found cause to fret about — from spending reductions to state labor disputes — President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile.
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, says that the low profile is a deliberate choice:
Pfeiffer said Obama has enough issues on his agenda and said the White House doesn’t believe the public wants the president weighing in on an array of subjects.
“They want him leading the country; they don’t want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day,” he said.
But a Super Bowl interview is OK? Er … sure.
On some issues, Pfeiffer is right. For instance, Obama didn’t have any business weighing in on a state budget debate in Wisconsin. The above-the-fray strategy appeared to make an exception for this case, though, as Obama didn’t miss an opportunity early on to claim that Scott Walker’s bill “seems like more of an assault on unions.” He also used a meeting with governors to scold Walker (without naming him) for vilifying public employees. However, despite promising to do so during the campaign, Obama has yet to put on “comfortable shoes” and demonstrate with the unions against the bill.
On other issues, though, a President has plenty of opportunity for leadership. That is certainly true for issues with the federal budget, which Obama must sign in order to pass into law. In fact, Presidents supply the unofficial start of the budgeting process by submitting their budget requests to Congress, where the House generates the official budget proposal. People expect the chief executive to remain engaged in the process, at least with Congress, even if they don’t want the President on cable-news shows. Both Democrats and Republicans have complained loudly over the last few weeks that Obama is nowhere to be found except in occasional news appearances when it comes to budget negotiations.
In foreign affairs, Americans expect their President not just to lead the debate here in the US but around the world. Congress can advise on foreign affairs, but the executive has all of the authority to negotiate American interests abroad. Maintaining a “low profile” and ceding influence to France is not exactly what Americans consider leadership on the world stage, a role we expect our Presidents to assume.
The “above-the-fray strategy” argument is weak cover for an “over-his-head” President.