Barack Obama has spent most of his adult life running for president. He apparently had little time to learn the role of playing president.
Take the funny incident from Obama’s December vacation in Hawaii. He decided to play some golf there. Golf is, after all, the game of presidents.
But Obama’s performance was woeful. One reporter watching Obama on the links said he “looked less than presidential.”
Obama was honest after hacking the ball into the rough, telling onlookers, "I'm not that good."
At least he’s honest about himself. That’s the beginning of all knowledge, according to Socrates.
The golf metaphor is a good one for his new presidency.
Obama is new. He has to learn not only to play the game of presidents but also to master the game of governing.
As Americans, most of us want our president to succeed in his job. Especially now as we face a calamitous economic situation and dangers lurking abroad.
So far, Obama’s new administration has not been all bad. There have been some good things. He surprisingly has picked a team of veterans, led by Hillary Clinton in foreign affairs and a national security including top military brass.
Leon Panetta, with no intelligence experience, appears the odd duck as Obama’s CIA director. But some Republican critics say only an outsider like Panetta can clean up the agency. There is no question that Panetta is a heavyweight.
Obama also deserves a pat on the back for reaching across the aisle to the Republicans. But gentility is not enough. Bipartisanship means you actually compromise with your adversaries -- not just shake their hands.
Like most Americans, I want Obama to succeed. But I want his success to be within the framework of the Constitution.
The Founding Fathers in their incredible wisdom included so many checks and balances in our system that a president alone can’t control national policy. To govern effectively, our president needs to listen and act on opposing views.
Obama’s stimulus plan, for example, shows that the president is not acting to compromise. Every Republican member of the House caucus voted against the Obama plan.
The Obama plan was laden with pork and wasteful spending. Obama pushed for infrastructure. The GOP wants wider tax cuts that would spur greater economic activity. Both should have had their day.
Instead, Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic cohorts rammed through a one-sided bill. While it is true that the Republicans hold no majority power in the House, they do have the ability, in effect, to veto a bill with a filibuster in the Senate.
Obama would be wise to make congressional Republicans happy. He may need their help in the future.
For the moment, the Democrats in Congress appear to be united with Obama. But that won’t last long. Just take Timothy Geithner’s nomination for Treasury secretary. Though the Senate confirmed the nomination, three members of Obama’s party actually voted against him.
Democrats in the Congress have a long reputation of pushing their own agenda over a president’s.
From 1932 until 2004, Democrats had almost uninterrupted control over Congress. Why? Because they rarely played second fiddle to U.S. presidents, whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House.
For example, President Jimmy Carter had a horrendous time with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. But when Carter went down to defeat against Reagan in 1980, Democrats retained control of the House -- and O’Neill remained speaker.
Meanwhile, Democrats gave Republican Reagan his tax cuts, agreed with his military buildup, and helped him cut the growth of federal spending.
Likewise, Obama may need to enlist the aid of Republicans in Congress, as well as conservative “blue dog” Democrats who may eventually align themselves in a loose way with the GOP.
For the moment, the GOP should play the role of loyal opposition. This means Republicans may oppose and vote against a president, but at the same time not try to obstruct a president and his actions in a time of crisis.
We saw how this worked during the Bush years. The Democrats opposed President Bush on the Iraq war, but they did not stop the war. Had they done so, they would have been viewed as obstructionists and disloyal -- even if polls showed that Americans didn't wholly support the war.
In the end the Democrats reaped a huge electoral success, first in 2006 and then in 2008, in large part because of their “loyal” opposition to the war.
After the election debacle in 2008, the GOP needs to recast itself as a positive party with bold new ideas that capture the imagination of the American people. If they do so, they may reap their own windfall in 2012.
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