July 5, 2020

Follow the Leader (If You Can Find One)

posted on: Thursday September 30, 2010

Ewen Finser ’12/Commentary Staff

President Obama has failed to connect with Americans even at a basic level. For an electorate charged by the soaring election year rhetoric of 2008, the promise of change has been lost and muddled amidst the hard realities of governing. What this has shown us about Obama is that clearly articulating grand themes does not equal efficient implementation of precise political goals. Amidst tumbling approval ratings, the Obama Administration has failed to alter its approach or even try to learn from its mistakes.

The recent health care debacle serves as a prime example of the lack of leadership. In the early, heady days of Obama’s presidency, talk of universal health care — health care for all — was expected by many and championed by the left. But instead of telling Congress his vision, Obama left the important details up to them. Left to their own devices, Blue Dog conservative Democrats, industry lobbyists, and powerful individual Senators were allowed to shape the agenda. Almost overnight, the dream of free health care became settling for a public “option” and, finally, even that was dropped. Regardless of whether universal health care is what each of us desired personally, the failure to lead was on shocking display for all those who expected the impassioned speeches and poignant promises to become a reality. For other examples, one must only look to the response to the BP oil spill, the failure to enact Cap and Trade, and the inability to either extend or repeal the Bush era tax cuts.

Not to be outdone, congressional Republicans have yet to demonstrate that they can seize the moment and provide new leadership for the American people. In a shocking display of political deafness, House Minority Leader John Boehner, who was backed by a phalanx of Bush era loyalists, released the “Pledge to America,” which was designed to give voters a roadmap of how Republicans will govern if given the mantle of power. What the pledge actually contained was a watered down version of the “Contract with America,” the Republican legislative proposals which sparked the 1994 Republican Revolution. In a way, it does make sense. Boehner himself was elected by this same group of 1994. In short, the current Republican leadership has failed a paramount test of leadership, the ability to adapt to a new political reality. 2010 is different than 1994. The Tea Party must be recognized in its own right, and not just as an extension of the party apparatus.

A good example of how the “Pledge to America” fails to provide political courage can be seen in how Republicans plan to address spending reform. The “Pledge to America” may talk of reducing spending and the national debt, yet it fails to address the largest areas of spending, namely, defense spending and entitlements like social security. Without addressing these elephants in the room, any discussion of spending reform is just window dressing. The Tea Party, independents, and the rest of America have every right to doubt the sincerity of the pledge. It is incumbent on congressional Republicans to be doubly sure to prescribe bold new conservative solutions precisely because the higher echelons of leadership remain eerily similar to that of the Bush era. These same individuals now in leadership presided over a time when spending was rampant and entitlements were dramatically increased with a vast Medicare expansion. So where does that leave us? Americans are without clear leadership and a sense of national direction. Stewing in our anger, the Tea Party has taken off as a rejection of the politics of Obama, but also of established Republicans. Instead of nominating the traditional strait-laced candidates, an increasingly frustrated electorate has turned to electing off-beat non-traditional candidates. Candidates Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sharon Angle of Nevada, Joe Miller of Alaska, and now Christine O’Donnell of Delaware are first rate examples of such eccentric novice figures thrust into the national spotlight. Voters are disillusioned, angry, or both. It would appear that they are deliberately second-guessing traditional candidates, in favor of those who they believe will be more principled and will actually stand for something; anything at all. What the voters do not want is more politicians incapable of political courage. This election year, voters are out to punish both the Obama Administration and the Republican establishment, with good cause.

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