The real solution to the government shutdown, goes one of the popular themes of political analysis, is for Barack Obama to do what Great Leaders have always done: Lead Greatly. That the President hasn't Led America out of this crisis is as baffling to them as it is a good peg for their columns.
There is no question that Obama's presidency isn't going terrifically. And it is perfectly fair to judge him based on what he's able to accomplish politically — what he's able to convince other people, political supporters and opponents alike, to do. That's what politicians do for a living, and if Obama cannot advance his agenda, he will — by definition! — be an unsuccessful president. But in the Lead Greatly contigent, this is just a case of conflating outcome with tactics. It's an armchair quarterback, a few Bud Lights in, muttering that the Giants won't turn their season around until coach Tom Coughlin starts winning some games. It is as true a statement as it is unhelpful. And if the impasse in Washington is objective evidence that Obama is not good at his job, the absence of helpful insights from professional givers of advice does not speak highly of how well they are doing theirs.
Still, aiming aphorisms about leadership at Obama has become a signature of a certain coterie within the commentariat. Obama has long been dinged for not casting a leadership spell over House Speaker John Boehner. He needs to lead on climate change or to lead on gun control. Implicit to the idea is that once he leads, Congressional Republicans will vote his way. That, apparently, is how it goes.
Please note that both of the preceding links go to examples in which one man has called on such leadership. That man is Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg shares a lot of characteristics with those who are making the call for more leadership as political salve: he is older, he is white, he is influential, he is wealthy. Bloomberg also shares something with Obama: he is in a leadership position. Unlike Obama, though, the legislative body Bloomberg deals with has been largely acquiescent to his whims (except when it involves policies detrimental to non-white, non-wealthy New Yorkers). Bloomberg has New York City so well in hand that he got the city council to change the rules so he could have a third term. Good luck to Obama leading his way to that.
The recent push for Obama to lead his way to shutdown victory began with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who gave Politico a look at his upcoming book. When Ronald Reagan was president and Tip O'Neill the Democratic House speaker, Matthews wrote, "government met its deadlines. Members of Congress listened and acted. Debates led to solutions. Shutdowns were averted." That is because they Led, presumably because they were Leaders. Except that Matthews is wrong, as The Washington Post pointed out. "The government shut down seven times when O'Neill was speaker and Reagan was president," Dylan Matthews wrote. He continued: "If your metric for quality governance is 'ability to avoid shutdowns,' then Reagan is absolutely the worst president of the modern era." But he Led, Mr. Matthews, and that's what counts.
OK, then, let's let TV-regular Mark Halperin take a stab at the Leaders America Needs.
Pairs who could negotiate a CR/debt deal: Gene Sperling-Josh Bolten, Bill Clinton-George W. Bush, Ron Klain-James A Baker 3d . #justdoit— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) September 29, 2013
Can you imagine a negotiation over the economy in which Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sat across a table from one another? And then imagine George W. Bush walking triumphantly to Capitol Hill, having Led, and presenting the plan to jubilant Tea Party conservatives who would set aside all of their previous public objections.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Leader, doesn't think Obama needs Clinton to Get It Done. As NBC reports:
"My approach would be, as the executive, is to call in the leaders of the Congress, the legislature, whatever you're dealing with, and say, 'We're not leaving this room until we fix this problem, because I'm the boss, I'm in charge,'" Christie said.
That is Leadership! All Obama has to do is explain to the 200-plus Republican majority in the House that He Is The Boss. (Like Springsteen!) After all, it is entirely possible that there are members of Congress who don't realize that Obama is The Boss and for whom such a clarifying statement would be helpful.
Then there's former GE executive and renowned-circuit-speaker Jack Welch, last in the news for his brave assertion that the Department of Labor made up jobs numbers to help Obama win re-election. (They did not.) Welch — whose column came to us via an unsolicited email meaning that we feel perfectly comfortable mocking it — has some advice for Obama on How To Lead: He needs to schmooze! "[S]chmoozing has to be what you do all the time as a leader;" this guy writes. "It has to be a massive part of your job. Walking around, having a coffee, sitting and listening, getting real, letting people get real with you." Yeah, man. Obama should have played more golf, because who could complain about that? If that's too elitist, he could have a beer with them; maybe have a cook-out. That is how Jack Welch ran GE, by being a bro with the guys in the manufacturing plants, we assume. It just works.
We will note that among our colleagues at National Journal, there are More Leadership Please proponents. We respectfully disagree that a change in tone from Obama will Get the Job Done.
The task at hand is simple: negotiate the competing interests of dozens of Republican members of the House who are feeling pressure from their constituents to not buckle on the Obamacare / shutdown issue in such a way that both Democrats and Republicans feel comfortable with a final funding bill that can be signed by the president. It's a simple matter of Leadership.
We will allow Alex Pareene of Salon to have the final argument in favor of Letting Leaders Lead.
ANALYSIS: If the president wants to win this shutdown he needs to stop using rhetoric and arguments and making his case with words— Alex Pareene (@pareene) October 2, 2013
Spoken like a true Leader.