The Obama Watch

Obama’s Pretend Leadership on the Debt

Barack Obama held a press conference yesterday in which he played a president. If only he would act like one.

By 7.12.11

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President Obama held a press conference yesterday in which he played a president. If only he enjoyed being one as much as he enjoys playing one, the nation might be on a solid path to recovery.

Presidents lead. They are supposed to, anyway. It’s in the job description. This one, though, believes that talking -- and only talking -- is leading. And so he talks. He berates. He lectures. He scolds. Seldom does he stop talking and start doing.

The subject of yesterday's press conference was the debt ceiling. The president assumed his Serious President Face, slid his eyelids to their lordly half-closed position, and chided the children of Congress on behalf of the American people.

"We keep on talking about this stuff and we have these high-minded pronouncements about how we've got to get control of the deficit and how we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. Well, let's step up. Let's do it. I'm prepared to do it. I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done. And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing -- if they mean what they say that this is important."

He reiterated: "And so if, in fact, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are sincere -- and I believe they are -- that they don't want to see the U.S. government default, then they're going to have to compromise just like Democrats are going to have to compromise; just like I have shown myself willing to compromise."

The problem with pretending to be a leader is that after a while one develops a record, and the people can see for themselves whether one has led. Here is ABC News on President Obama's handling of the debt ceiling on Feb. 12, 2010: "Behind closed doors and with no cameras present, President Obama signed into law Friday afternoon the bill raising the public debt limit from $12.394 trillion to $14.294 trillion."

The very picture of leadership: The hero of the debt ceiling wars, cowering in his closet, afraid to let the public see him sign a law authorizing the borrowing of another $1.9 trillion. That $1.9 trillion is run through, without the president having done anything to change Washington's spend-thrift ways, as he has so often said he would do.

Obama would have been content to continue spending, and raising the debt ceiling to accommodate that spending, indefinitely. But in large part because the American public realized that, he was given a Republican House to deal with. The House is doing its job: hindering the Obama agenda.

That has the president so frustrated that he is making even less sense than usual. Here is what he ruled out yesterday: "The things that I will not consider are a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day or a 180-day temporary stopgap resolution to this problem. This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments."

So the two-month increase in the debt limit the Democratic Congress passed and Obama signed in December 2009 was un-American, according to the president who signed it.

President Obama has had 29 months to deal with the national debt. For the first 24 of those months, he had a Democratic Congress to work with, and he did nothing but enlarge the debt. In the last five, he has blamed Republicans for not being serious enough about the debt to sit down with him and reach a compromise on it. Amazingly, he said this only 11 days after he refused to meet with Senate Republicans to discuss the debt because, his spokesman said, that was "not a conversation worth having."

Obama can spin all he wants, but the more he pretends to have led on the debt, the more obvious it is that he has not.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.