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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Just playing it safe

Strength? Weakness? Nothing stands out to me in Obama's first year as our leader. Playing it safe seems to be the model for a president whose character embodies a calm, nonthreatening figure that is difficult to criticize. Hope. Change. A concrete discussion on his progress with my peers, let alone among the diverse makeup of our society, is nearly impossible without a common definition of these loaded terms. However, just like the slogans from his campaigns, Obama seems to lack a committed plan other than depending on compromise.

To an extent, Obama has fought his fights and stood his ground. Health-care reform has gone farther and become a national debate, as it rightfully should. But our president seems to spend more time looking for the "right" decision, and by that I mean the easiest decision. Politically, he is treading lightly. He has not put himself out there to push his agenda and basically makes decisions to keep many happy. Don't get me wrong, people are mad! Party politics inherently creates divisions and the polls show a low approval rating. His goal to please has actually acted as a vehicle to irritate and disappoint, especially those within his Democratic party.

At the end of the year, Obama's ratings in the Gallup Poll are similar to that of Reagan and higher than Clinton in both of their first years. Our president has plenty of time to prove his leadership. As Obama begins his second year, I would give him the following advice: don't be afraid to lead. I am beyond the discussion of "hope" and am ready to see blunt action, even if those actions anger me. -- Frank Rodriguez

Hurry up and wait

Newspaper headlines from August, 2009, should have read "Landmark health-care legislation passed." Last July, news anchors should have reported on new terror detention policies. And three weeks ago Guantanamo Bay was supposed to be closed. For someone who so ostensibly embodies authenticity and organic policy-building, Obama's biggest surprise is his willingness to throw speculative and artificial deadlines on his policy objectives. Then, by repeatedly failing to meet these objectives, Obama only gives opponents fodder with which to attack him for being impractical and idealistic.

It's one thing to promise broad policy objectives. "I will close Guantanamo Bay" or "I will overhaul health care" are feasible policy promises. They might take years to accomplish--after all the U.S. has been trying to address health-care inequalities and inefficiencies since the early 1900s--but one can't be labeled a "failure" until legislation is definitively defeated or the President's term has ended. By providing so many conjectural details about the legislation's passage, ranging from support levels to, of course, timelines, points of failure become much more specific and identifiable.

Though I imagine Obama attaches such benchmarks to add meat to his commitments, it has so far only proven to debase his goals and empower his enemies. I suggest that Obama puts down the calendar, and instead further prepares himself for what will be protracted policy battles. --- Sean Holiday

More than an orator

Since his memorable speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, President Obama has branded himself as one of the most eloquent and engaging public speakers to fall under the national spotlight in recent history. It is a quality that he cultivated in his years as a professor and a community organizer, featured in his presidential campaign, and continues to showcase into the first year of his presidency. His ability to simultaneously show passion and composition, and temper the emotional with the pragmatic has repeatedly been named the hallmark of his relationship with the American people.

Ironically, what was professed to be Obama's greatest asset during his campaign set him up for the greatest amount of criticism at the onset of his first term. Skeptics conceded that he could work an audience from behind the podium, but wondered if he could he could deliver from behind the Oval Office desk. In one of the most anticipated presidencies in American history, it would be his actions that defined him, not the talk that got him there.

In his first year, Obama may not have solved the country's major problems, but he has proven himself to be more than just an orator. Inheriting a recession, an inadequate healthcare system, two failing wars, and a tarnished international reputation, Obama has stepped up to the plate. He pushed the stimulus package that calmed the economic storm, took the first step towards healthcare reform, announced the redirection of troops to Afghanistan, and used diplomacy to reconnect with the Middle East. Admittedly, Obama still has far more to achieve in each of these areas, but anyone still worried about Obama being a talker might consider that he has passed more legislation in his first year than any president since World War II.

Contrary to pre-presidential expectations, Obama's leadership strength isn't merely his ability to command public attention; it's his dedication to tackling the issues that bring him to the public stage in the first place. -- Neeta Sonalkar

By Coro Fellows

 |  January 19, 2010; 1:40 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Obama seems like a smart, generally competent guy who is a little out of his depth in ugly Washington battles. Too focused on consensus in a town which values blunt confrontation. Perhaps he needed six more years as a senator before becoming president.

He should porbably distance himself from Congressional DEMs and make his own way. He has the potential to be a great president but the DEMs are not going to help him get there. He deserves credit for his efforts so far, as imperfect as they have been.

Posted by: Matthew_DC | January 19, 2010 11:05 AM
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Obama seems to be all about compromise, finding some middle road. Result: he pleases no one. Healthcare reform is classic Obama. Compromise, after compromise has resulted in a watered-down bill that seems to favor the special interests (big pharma, insurance companies, labor unions, big employers, the AMA, hospitals, trial lawyers) while providing only marginal benefits and many new costs to middle class taxpayers and small business people. He has not delivered the transformational change we expected, but a small evolutionary step. Obama's HC reform is like the status quo on steroids -- more tax dollars for a fundamentally broken system.

Posted by: alonzoQuijana | January 19, 2010 10:56 AM
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