Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama Governs Like an Academic...

Reaction to President Obama's first Oval office address seems to be universally negative.  Even the Huffington Post has dismissed it as "pointless." The normally loving Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann derided it as "Carter-like" and lacking any executive authority.

I think that Michael Gerson hit the right note in the Washington Post:
"The setting of the Oval Office creates an expectation of decisive executive action. It recalls memories of President Dwight Eisenhower dispatching federal troops to Little Rock or President John F. Kennedy announcing the naval "quarantine" of Cuba. This speech will not be confused with those precedents. Obama urges others to take action, kibitzes with corporate executives, shifts some government personnel and signals the start of a review process. A crisis is met with a study. The action verbs in this speech have somehow gone missing. It is all rather limp and weak."
This is of course Obama's greatest weakness - he governs like an academic. His solution to every problem is to call a panel of experts and talk. Surely every problem can be solved if only we bring together the smartest people. Never mind that many of these "experts" have no practical or hands on experience. How many times in one speech could the President mention that our Energy Secretary has a Nobel Prize?
“… I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge – a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.”
Guess what Mr. President - you have the Nobel Peace Prize - have you actually brought about peace anywhere? Perhaps the Nobel Prize is not the qualification needed here.

Barack Obama approaches governing like a faculty meeting. On every issue that requires executive action he delegates, forms commissions, and schedules future meetings. To him, this is action. And in the egalitarian world of academe it would be.  But in the real world it's anything but leadership.