The Washington Leadership Vacuum
It has been remarked that a good crisis should never be allowed to go to waste. If the current White House administration understood this, the United States could possibly be experiencing its best period to date, if it were judged by the sheer number of crises. Yet Americans are still out of work. American standing abroad is falling at a record pace. The nation has grown inexorably more partisan. China has eclipsed the United States with the size of its economy. The United States is presently realizing its worst decades since the 1970’s. Crisis after crisis has reared its head, and none of them have been dealt with adequately.
The recent re-eruption of the debt-limit debate serves to illustrate the overall problem with a lack of leadership that is emblematic of the Obama administration. Instead of working tirelessly to avoid a government shutdown, the leader of the free world is content to rest on his laurels as long as his signature legislation remains untouched. Congress has shown itself for many years as incapable of coming up with a bipartisan budget agreement. This is the President’s chance to right this wrong and demonstrate that he is worthy of his office. If there is anyone in the American government meant ensure business is taken care of, it is Barack Obama.
Of course, the financial concerns of the federal government are not the only source of crisis for President Obama. The Internal Revenue Service recently demonstrated that even the administrative arm of the government, specifically designed by its progressive founders to be apolitical, is susceptible to stooping to partisan conflict. Whether or not anyone in the upper-level leadership of the Executive Department was actually responsible for meddling with conservative non-profits tax status, it was a scandal of massive proportions. President Obama had the opportunity to show how committed he was to truly reforming the government and leaving it better than he had found it. Instead, he failed to take responsibility for the situation. He could have quite easily revolutionized the public’s view of governmental transparency, yet he opted to keep the status quo.
Beyond purely domestic issues, the President has been met with a significant crisis abroad. There is a massive humanitarian problem that shows no sign of slowing down in Syria. President Obama announced a point at which the United States would use force on the Assad regime to stop them from further escalation of the fighting. That point, called the “redline” was going to be when the Syrian government started to use its chemical weapons stockpile. As the President put it, use of chemical weapons would destabilize the international security situation. Since then, the redline came and went, and President Obama has failed to persuade Congress or the American people that military action was necessary.
On September 14th, 2001, just three days after the devastating terrorist attacks, President Bush visited New York City and gave a speech on the rubble of the World Trade Center. It was at the peak of a national crisis that had far broader consequences than any of the problems that have faced the current administration. George Bush gave the country a sense of purpose and direction (whether or not it was universally appealing) in a moment of acute chaos and confusion. Instead of relinquishing his role as the leader of the nation, he seized it and never allowed a similar event happen under his watch. The most staggering contrast between the presidents is that Bush took three days to begin his response, while President Obama has consistently failed to react appropriately.
President Bush demonstrated what it means to be a leader in crisis. Leaders cannot choose when disaster will strike, but they are entirely in control of the response. A strong leader will recognize the crises as the opportunities they are to make their organizations better. Weak leaders will provide excuses and attempt to explain why they are not ultimately responsible. When 3,000 Americans were murdered in an unexpected and unprecedented terrorist attack, President Bush did not attempt to blame anyone for what happened, except the actual perpetrators. Time and again, when President Obama’s administration has been faced with significant problems, he has failed to act appropriately.