Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What the President forgot

Back in the 00's, we liberals chortled at supporters of the Bush administration who derided members of the reality-based community.  And we might well still laugh at those on the Right who believe in faith-based answers to problems susceptible to solutions based on actual knowledge.

President Obama is certainly a member of the reality-based community.  As a general rule, that is a good thing in a President.  But Mr. Obama seems to have forgotten that one function of a leader is to change reality.

I had a professor in law school who said, "If you don't like the facts, change the facts."  He did not mean that we should falsify, but that when the situation was still evolving, we should try to influence the course of events in our client's favor.   In many instances, president's can do that, through appointments (including recess appointments), executive orders, the issuance of regulations and simple presidential leadership.  

The president can change the terms of debate.  That is, he (or she) can change perceptions of reality--which in many instances is to change reality itself.  He (or she) can speak to Congress or directly to the people.  If s/he makes an effective case, the voters will tell members of Congress what to do.  And the members ignore such a message at peril to their careers.  

One of the requisites for effective leadership is measured boldness--an appreciation of what the public will accept that proves superior to that of others--in Congress or the punditocracy.  Think of FDR's 50,000 airplanes and the New Deal or JFK's promise that America would reach the moon in 10 years.  No serious person thought that such goals were possible before the presidents expressed them.   Indeed, serious people said that FDR and JFK  were crazy.  And they were right--while FDR said that the United States would produce 50,000 aircraft in  four years, we produced more than that number in 1944 alone.  Kennedy's 10-year time span turned out to be just over eight.  Those were instances of leaders who changed reality.   

To this point, Mr. Obama's leadership has lacked boldness.  He has had a good grasp of what can be achieved--let's not forget health-insurance reform and the Dodd-Frank Act (among other measures) were given little chance.  But many of us have the nagging feeling that the President's grasp has exceeded his reach.  

This week, Mr. Obama will have a chance to show more boldness and more effective leadership in the way that he attacks the problem that threatens a new economic crisis.  It's an opportunity he has to grasp, not just for his presidency, but for the good of the nation.

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