A poor communicator
One of the biggest victories President Obama can claim after one year in office is the way he has returned a sense of civility to the public conversation, not just in the United States but also around the world. He has opened up the dialogue about important issues such as race, health care, and education. As a result, our nation's stature has improved enormously. His message has been one of hope and possibility, and that resonates especially with minority members who have had a tough time in this country for so many years.
Assuming the health care reform bill is finally passed by Congress, I think that would rank as a breakthrough on a par with the programs established by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. And yet, on this same topic, President Obama could be criticized for weak leadership in the poor job his administration did in conveying the urgent need for this reform and allowing his critics to hijack the issue last summer.
His leadership weaknesses seem traceable to a poor job of communications, and that's surprising from such an intelligent and eloquent president. We're simply left unclear about where he stands on a number of issues and what he plans to do about them: Don't-ask-don't-tell. Guantanamo Bay. The unemployment rate, which stays stubbornly at 10 percent. The trillion-dollar deficit. Bank reforms. Also, during the election he promised transparency on how his administration would operate. He said his preparations for the health care reform would be televised on C-SPAN, but we didn't see that. Sadly, this is the kind of secrecy we experienced during the Bush era.
Part of the president's problem is that he is still a relative newcomer to Washington. He hasn't established a sense of trust and confidence among many of the major players in D.C. True, he can lean on experienced advisers such as Rahm Emanuel and other former members of the Clinton administration, but at the end of the day, the buck stops at the president's desk. Until he can do a better job of communicating his message and showing that he knows how to pull the levers of power, he's going to have difficulty influencing the people he needs to influence in Washington.
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