Obama’s Failure as a Leader July 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, candidate obama, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, leadership, politics, power, presidency, president obama, roger hollander, single payer
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www.rogerhollander.com, July 22, 2009
To quote John Lennon, “Imagine!” Imagine Barack Obama giving a nationally televised speech on health care reform. In it he outlines the advantages of a single-payer plan. He gives the statistical evidence to demonstrate the enormous savings by eliminating private health insurance. He discusses the German, French, British and Canadian systems. He acknowledges some drawbacks, but shows clearly how they achieve the fundamental objectives of universal accessibility, choice, and cost savings. He directly challenges the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and exposes their high priced media propaganda for what it is: distortion and lies. With most American already having a predisposition towards universal coverage, and with the myths dispelled and replaced with hard undeniable facts, the pressure from the public on Congress to achieve a single-payer option would be irresistible.
Barack Obama wouldn’t be President of the United States today if he hadn’t been the pragmatic, hard-ball, Chicago-bred politician that he is. His failure, or his inability, or his lack of will – call it what you like – to withdraw from the country’s imperialist (criminal and destructive) war adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or to hold the Bush administration accountable for its high crimes and misdemeanors is eminently predictable and in entirely in character. That many expected more, a hell of a lot more, is due entirely to his campaign rhetoric, which was calculated and for the most part fraudulent.
But this is no reason to not render critical judgments about the Obama presidency despite the fact that we are still quite early into his tenure. There is no doubt that we can expect more of the same. There is a principle to the effect that the practical should be judged by the ideal, and not vice versa. Following this principle is the keystone of leadership. President Obama violates this principle on a daily basis.
Obama knows what leadership is. Candidate Obama demonstrated the epitome of leadership as he led the nation to an electoral victory over a McCain/Palin ticket that had the potential to give the country a government even more disastrous than that of Bush/Cheney – virtually inconceivable but true.
He gave the country its first Afro-American president. However, once elected, he cast off the leadership role as a snake sheds its skin.
President Obama is fond of saying something to the effect of not letting the perfect get in the way of achieving the possible. Politics is the art of the possible, as common wisdom has it. In other words, judge the ideal by the practical, which is to my mind a cynical and nihilistic form of non-leadership.
In a sense, a leader’s role is to remain to a large degree above the fray. A leader reflects the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people. A genuine leader is not a power broker.
In the U.S. system of government, the Congress makes laws which, once agreed upon by both houses, are presented to the President to sign into law or veto. Apart from skewing factors such as massive corporate lobbying and the infamous Bush “signing statements” that allowed the President to ignore laws passed by Congress, the system as it has evolved does generate legislation, for better or worse.
A president’s role can vary between staying out of the process until a piece of legislation reaches his or her desk, and active participation in creating legislation and stick-handling it through Congress. In modern times presidents have leaned more towards the latter role, thereby sacrificing their capacity to lead rather than to broker.
I would suggest that the proper role for Obama or any other president is to communicate to the general public and to the members of Congress his vision on any given issue that is in the best interests of the nation. In the case of health care reform, for example, that would be for a single-payer option, which is what Canada and European industrial democracies have had in place for decades or longer (and which, despite being virtually ignored by the mainstream media and subjected to massive campaigns based upon outright falsehoods, most Americans believe in). But since that is the “perfect” solution in Obama’s frame of thinking, it is “off the table” presumably so as not to hinder a less than perfect but “realizable” option. This is the way of the defeatism, it is not leadership.
In other words, if Obama were a leader rather than a manipulator, he would go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the people, and let Congress take the consequences for its action or failure to act. This might entail short term risk (that a flawed reform or no reform at all would result), but surely is the only road to genuine reform in the long term. Leadership is about taking risks; but what is ironic, not to mention tragic, is that by taking the path of power brokering a deal, the only possible results are either a much less than adequate reform or total failure. It is also ironic that the entirely self-interested neo-con (Republican) opposition will go for the jugular on the compromised, brokered solution as if it were the ideal solution (so, why not go for broke if you are going to be viciously attacked in any case?). The pragmatist will argue that the less than adequate reform is an incremental step to genuine reform. This indeed might be the case were it not for the fact that bastardized reforms are the result of catering to special interests (in the case of health care reform the AMA, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries), who having been victorious in fending off genuine reform will only remain further entrenched and less likely to be defeated in the future.
In feudal times there was in some senses a positive relationship between kings and subjects vis-à-vis confrontation with the ruling nobility. At times a serf could go over the head of his Lord and appeal to the king for justice. I am no lover of monarchy and only offer this as an analogy. A president who was a genuine friend of the masses and an ally in their struggles with enormous economic interests and compromised legislatures would be a sight to behold.
The problem, of course, is that the President is just as compromised as the legislatures with respect to the funding required to gain a nomination and to launch a successful presidential campaign. What I find so insidious about the Obama (full disclosure: I voted for him, the alternative was too scary, but I can understand those who bit the bullet and voted for Nader) is that he promoted himself and catapulted himself to the presidency by pretending to be a leader. I have to confess that in spite of my better judgment, there was a part of me that wanted to believe him. This may have been naïve on my part, but at least I kept it to myself.