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Obama's trouble: Setting expectations?

Aides in the Obama administration have spent the last 10 days "soul-searching," reports the Post's Anne Kornblut, and they've come to a conclusion. The sharp defeat Democrats experienced in the midterm elections wasn't just because of the economy, as President Obama has said several time since Nov. 2. It wasn't just poor communication. And it was not just the traditional mid-course correction many presidents experience.

Rather, they're now admitting it was caused largely by the administration's failure to live up to the expectations they set in the 2008 campaign. Obama, you'll recall, was going to change the way Washington works. He was going to bridge the partisan divide, and stand up to special interests in a way no president had before.

Some of this can be chalked up to typical election-season rhetoric: Every politician since the beginning of recorded time has made promises on the campaign trail they would clearly never be able to keep. Some are worse than others, though it's almost impossible to make the math of winning elections work without engaging in a little campaign hyperbole.

But once a leader gets elected, the calculus changes. Rather than driving expectations up, leaders have to send them down, and then beat them. Finding the right balance between setting goals to be held accountable for and not promising too much may just be the most formidable leadership challenge leaders face--and one that's proving especially difficult for Obama.

One reason leaders set time lines for their goals, of course, is so they will be able to boast about their achievements later. Take the health-care reform legislation. Obama notoriously set a deadline--much to the jeers of his opponents, who accused him of trying to rush through legislation--to pass health-care reform by the end of 2009, his first full year in office. But while that goal was basically met--the House passed a version of the bill in November 2009, the Senate passed a version in December and the final version of the bill was signed into law in March--that will hardly be a calling card for the president come 2012.

Not meeting a set goal tripped Obama up again last week, when he failed to reach a trade agreement with South Korea over exports. Though the G20 meeting in Seoul had been set as a target date, Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak failed to finalize the pact. While the president is still pushing for an agreement to be reached within weeks, and some reports say technical matters hung up final negotiations, the headlines and editorials were searing. In the aftermath of the election, President Obama was suddenly portrayed as the humbled leader unable to close the deal.

And now, the president is promising Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a "full-court press" pushing a lame duck Congress to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty, calling it a top priority. Never mind that Congress is completely distracted by a sole preoccupation over the next six weeks--what to do about the Bush tax cuts expiring. Perhaps Obama is using this as a negotiating point to get something he wants from the Republicans, who are set on continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. But setting a deadline he may be unable to achieve is a risky play right now in the game of expectation setting.

None of this is to say, of course, that the president hasn't racked up a long list of achievements and met a fair number of his promises. He has. Or to say that he shouldn't set goals and then meet, or better yet, beat them. He should. But as with any leader, Obama's surest path to regaining the confidence of disillusioned voters and scoring high-profile accomplishments he can boast about later will be carefully choosing which deadlines are worth the political risk, and which goals should be set without a time line.

By Jena McGregor

 |  November 15, 2010; 8:07 AM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership , Goal Setting , Government leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Obama will just have to resign and go back to Chicago and be the community organizer he once was. He promised us change and ended up giving us four more years of Bush. He caved in to Republicans completely. And his fellow Democrats haven't fared any better. Besides, we all know the economy is going to collapse within a year. The Republicans and the rich bankers have been trying to make it happen for the longest time. Why do you think recessions even happen? A recession is an artificial crisis induced by the rich through fearmongering to get what they want. And it works every time because people aren't even smart enough to know what's really going on. It's incredible just how many people you can scare the bejesus out of with a stroke of a pen.

Posted by: beatle-maniac1 | November 16, 2010 12:36 PM

obama is failing because he is a socialist, and because he is anti-American, bowing and apologizing for the United States all around the world. He's also ill-prepared for the job of being president; maybe that's why he has never dismounted the campaign trail. And he doesn't respect the job: he is forever running off somewhere, either to vacation or to deplore the United States to anyone who will listen. As for me, I never had high expectations for a community organizer. However, who could have dreamed what a total mess BO would make of things.

Posted by: wmpowellfan | November 16, 2010 11:45 AM

obama is failing because he is a socialist, and because he is anti-American, bowing and apologizing for the United States all around the world. He's also ill-prepared for the job of being president; maybe that's why he has never dismounted the campaign trail. And he doesn't respect the job: he is forever running off somewhere, either to vacation or to deplore the United States to anyone who will listen. As for me, I never had high expectations for a community organizer. However, who could have dreamed what a total mess BO would make of things.

Posted by: wmpowellfan | November 16, 2010 11:45 AM

My goodness! Could you read your last paragraph again. You must be out of breath after doing that. You are tripping all over trying not to convince the reader but yourself that Obama is doing fine. Well you should refresh yourself with what one general said about Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. He listed all Saddam's defects and then concluded that if we overlook these defects, then Saddam is a good military leader. Ah so ...

Posted by: johnlui11 | November 16, 2010 7:25 AM

"..THE TAX CUT NOBODY HEARD OF, by Michael Cooper
"HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — What if a president cut Americans’ income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?
"It is not a rhetorical question. At Pig Pickin’ and Politickin’, a barbecue-fed rally organized here last week by a Republican women’s club, a half-dozen guests were asked by a reporter what had happened to their taxes since President Obama took office...."
Read the rest, at the following link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/us/politics/19taxes.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=the%20tax%20cut%20that%20nobody%20noticed&st=cse
This president steered us out of a depression that the Republicans put us into and helped the middle class. What did the Republicans do? Nothing but attempt to destroy him. They refer to their win as "repudiation" while they make other self-aggrandizing claims and even while claiming that another $680 billion "afforded" to billionaires in a ten-year time period will be good for the country. It didn't create a job surge LAST time they greased billionaires' palms with our money (and greased their own in return with theirs), and it isn't going to benefit us now. There is no justification.
As a matter of fact, if people hadn't been duped by the misinformation campaign that refers to itself as a "news" station, there would have been no justification for their win.
FYI, people. The president of Fox "News" is Roger Ailes. Anybody who knows who Roger Ailes is would not be in his right mind to believe that Fox "News" is a news station.
It is a sad day for our country.
Posted by: jKO2010 | November 15, 2010 2:08 PM"

your post states your level of ignorance...
and partisonship...
go peddle your lies somewhere else...

Posted by: DwightCollins | November 16, 2010 6:04 AM

Obama should declare himself as a one-term president and get on with courage of his convictions. So far he has been running for election since inagural day.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | November 16, 2010 2:20 AM

Obama should declare himself as a one-term president and get on with courage of his convictions. So far he has been running for election since inagural day.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | November 16, 2010 2:19 AM

...THE TAX CUT NOBODY HEARD OF, by Michael Cooper

"HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — What if a president cut Americans’ income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?

"It is not a rhetorical question. At Pig Pickin’ and Politickin’, a barbecue-fed rally organized here last week by a Republican women’s club, a half-dozen guests were asked by a reporter what had happened to their taxes since President Obama took office...."

Read the rest, at the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/us/politics/19taxes.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=the%20tax%20cut%20that%20nobody%20noticed&st=cse


This president steered us out of a depression that the Republicans put us into and helped the middle class. What did the Republicans do? Nothing but attempt to destroy him. They refer to their win as "repudiation" while they make other self-aggrandizing claims and even while claiming that another $680 billion "afforded" to billionaires in a ten-year time period will be good for the country. It didn't create a job surge LAST time they greased billionaires' palms with our money (and greased their own in return with theirs), and it isn't going to benefit us now. There is no justification.

As a matter of fact, if people hadn't been duped by the misinformation campaign that refers to itself as a "news" station, there would have been no justification for their win.

FYI, people. The president of Fox "News" is Roger Ailes. Anybody who knows who Roger Ailes is would not be in his right mind to believe that Fox "News" is a news station.

It is a sad day for our country.

Posted by: jKO2010 | November 15, 2010 2:08 PM

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