Chief Executive

Please understand: I do want Obama’s presidency to succeed, because the fate of the country is tied to his success. I’m just not very hopeful.

I thought this Steve Clemons piece was interesting, and so was this comment:

Obama has zero executive — zero — experience. This was raised in the campaign but he deflected it by saying that he was qualified to be the nation’s executive by virtue of running a successful campaign.

Let’s accept that at face value, which is a curious thing to do, making campaign success the argument for proxy executive or work experience. But let’s accept it at face value. A candidate is a totem, a walking symbol, a vessel of voter desire. A successful candidate is not a planner, he does not do operations, he does not craft words, craft policy, do deals, manage people. That’s all done by other people in a campaign.

So why are people surprised that he’s struggling now to function as an executive?

He took six months to make the sort of decision on Afghanistan that FDR and Marshall made over lunch. This was not the aides’ fault.

Has he ever been around an executive?

Since he’s never been around one, how would he know how to act?

My view of him is that the aides are a sideshow. Changing them may make this or that tactical element improve. Changing them will not alter the character of the presidency. It is the president who is allocating his attentions and enthusiasms. If it is true that Emanuel did not execute the president’s instructions on Gitmo, the real problem here is not Emanuel. It’s Emanuel’s boss, who should have warned him once to get with the program and, if not satisfied with an immediate turnabout in Emanuel’s efforts, done what Reagan did to Haig.

Haig had made a power play (while SecState) to corral and control the many voices influencing US foreign policy outside the State Department. He had gone to Reagan with a list of grievances and requested fixes. The next day he was invited to Reagan’s office, and the genial president handed Haig his letter of resignation.

Can anyone imagine Obama even knowing how to do this?

I think what this entire discussion reveals is that Emanuel and Axelrod are today the functional elements of this presidency, and the president has not figured out that what worked in the campaign, or in the state senate, or in the 140 days he spent working in the U.S. Senate, no longer works. (It’s my view that he’s not even that attached to the job, which is astonishing, but he does have an astonishing self-regard that may make the job of being president seem, well, uninteresting to him. But that’s another story. I would hope that he would stop with the “I don’t need this job or aggravation” comments, however.)

This is a real problem. Carter at least had some executive experience, but he found that it was too parochial and too small to translate to the Oval Office. Clinton fired his legislative aides after his first year, and slowly (and by virtue of a voracious
intellectual appetite (which Obama does not have), and because of incredible work habits and people skills) made something of his presidency, until he tripped on his d***.

Obama is one crisis away from being overwhelmed. He has not built an effective team, and there is no elasticity in his management group. It’s a collection of personalities. Not being a man of affection or loyalty, he’s not going to be rewarded with much of either if things continue to go south, or if he’s blindsided by something bad that can’t be studied for six months. This is not good.

10 thoughts on “Chief Executive

  1. Wow Susie… This is just sad. Not a surprise – I remember his supporters talking about his incredible experience of running his campaign. I guess I was hoping to be surprised.

  2. Sad doesn’t even begin to cover it for me. As cynical, as depressed as I’ve been, I hadn’t allowed myself to think that thought…”Obama is one crisis away from being overwhelmed.” That makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

  3. Clemons has it wrong. The president doesn’t have to be a CEO, he has to be a leader. Obama is a talker and has no leading ability. Obama doesn’t have to fire people in order to be a decent president; he can alway let someone else do the firing. The government can ran by advisers and cabinet secretaries. The president has to lead, to provide vision, to be the final decider, to influence congress, to talk to the people and to set an agenda. Most of these roles have nothing to do with chief executive.

    I don’t know whether Rahm does this or the other, I have no clue whether he obeys Obama or not, I do however know that from day two, the faux left has used him as a scapegoat for most Obama misdeeds. It may be a continuation of Clinton hysterical hate. I do have a darker suspicion that I’ll keep for myself.

    We all want Obama to succeed, at the very least, because if the GOP takes over the US and hell will freeze over.

  4. Obama does not look as if he’s in any way energized by or enjoying this “presidenting” thing he won the right to do. But he has an obligation to make himself do the job and do it as well as possible.

    What can be done if he doesn’t get a grip? Get some new advisers in who can do the job?

    I didn’t expect a critiaque like this from Clemons! That is disturbing…along with “one crisis away from being overwhelmed.”

  5. Oops–I read the intro wrong: I thought the quote was simply a comment from Clemons’ post itself. His writing is much forgiving of Obama, as I have come to expect.

  6. Follow this link to a post on “BAG News Notes” and look at the top picture.

    When I saw it, my heart froze. I have been in this kind of meeting, and I know this moment when everything just stops and nobody knows what to do. At those moments the President CANNOT be one of those who stops and gives up along with the rest, but I have the very sick feeling that he is doing just that.

  7. Commenter Drew at Clemons’ place (the guy you quoted) sounds like either a management consultant from Bain or McKinsey or a political consultant who’s out of work.

    He’s one more guy with his own analysis. Part may be correct, part may be wrong. Some of it may resonate with people, but I see no reason to give it any more weight than any other semi-anonymous guy’s opinion.

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