President Obama’s Leadership Limitations

Source: Flickr / Gage Skidmore

When veteran journalist David Gregory sat down for an interview on “Politicking with Larry King,” he diagnosed a problem facing Barack Obama’s presidency. King asked Gregory how the administration ended up “on the wrong track with the health care thing,” specifically the issues with HealthCare.gov. Gregory’s response candidly contextualized President Obama’s shortcomings.

Gregory said the president understood “intuitively” the need for a great user experience while electronically signing up for health care, “otherwise young people are not going to mess around with technology that doesn’t work — they don’t have time for that.” Obama is the “Internet president,” Gregory points out, but his campaigns that everyone lauds were run by a private company, the sector best equipped to handle such projects. When it came to HealthCare.gov, the president brought in the government.

“I don’t know who’s around him, Larry, who really uses the muscle of the Oval Office to get things done. It hasn’t been his chief of staff, and there’s not other people who say the president wants this, we are gonna to get this right, or people are going to lose it, they’re gonna lose their jobs, and heads are gonna roll,” Gregory said. “He doesn’t seem to have that leadership style, he doesn’t have that toughness about him, and so making the machinery of government work is that much harder.”

This is quite the rebuke by a journalist, but it isn’t the first. In Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column following the government shutdown, she wrote about Obama’s leadership — particularly, the absence of it. “The paradox of Obama is that he believes in his own magical powers, but then he doesn’t turn up to use them,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with a president breaking a sweat somewhere beyond the basketball court.”

What Gregory and Dowd are pointing to is a problem that engulfs not only health care and negotiations with Congress but one that spans the entire presidency. Without clear leadership, Obama appears adrift and uniformed.

In November, the president extended cancelled health plans into 2014. At a news conference, he said he was unaware of the problems with the website. ”I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to,” he said. “Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.”

Not being directly informed was why the president was unaware of National Security Agency programs, as well. Top officials at the White House told the Washington Post that the president was not briefed on the scope the program that involved collecting information on various heads of state exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Republican political consultant Mike Murphy pointed out on Meet the Press: “You know, you can have a crisis of credibility as a president, where people think you aren’t telling the truth, and you can have a crisis of confidence where they think you can’t run anything. When you have both at once, it is a massive crackup. And now we’ve got midterm elections coming, which I think the geography is bad for the Democrats; this is going to make it worse.”

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