I was inspired by a talk show’s discussion this week on whether President Obama is a better legislator or executive as President thus far. I believe that he’s taken a strong role as a legislator, and struggled as an executive.
Going back through my notes from my American Presidency class, the President has four major functions. (1) Symbol – head of state (2) Policy Advocate (3) Mediator – He’s the only elected official with a national constituency and (4) Crisis Manager. I think he has been weak on two of the four.
Like it or not, President Obama has found legislative success, as far as creating new national laws. He’s reformed our healthcare system, passed a massive stimulus package, and is working with his Democratic Congress to pass climate control bills, banking legislation, reform to No Child Left Behind, among others. This is an ambitious list of potential law changes. With the Democratic Congress, this is probably a smart decision.
As a mediator, I give him a fairly poor review. He has attempted in a very public way to “talk” to Republicans and work with them on the healthcare legislation. However, there is no indication from the national media that Obama is working with Republicans on any of his current proposals. In addition, on the healthcare reform, he was a good enough of a mediator to get the votes needed on a very controversial piece of legislation. However, by all accounts on the healthcare reform legislation, the only working with Republicans occurred in the public setting, and not behind closed doors, where real agreements are made.
Obama has held the symbolic principals of the office. He’s gotten criticized for spending time with the US Soccer team before they left for South Africa because of the ongoing oil spill. It’s unfair to criticize Obama in that aspects. If there is any critique here, I think it is in his traveling and visiting other world leaders. He’s had one main speech and visit overseas. He ran on the platform of rebuilding the view of America overseas, and I would be interested in hearing anyone tell me what he has done to improve relations with other countries.
If I could grade Obama as a crisis manager, I would give Obama a generous D. Whether it be the tensions of North Korea/South Korea, the oil spill, the floods of Nashville, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contend that he’s been an ineffective crisis manager. At the very least, on the public side of things, he’s been late or hasn’t responded swiftly enough in my opinion. With the wars, as the Commander-in-Chief, he should visit our troops that are sacrificing everyday for all of us.
It’s clear that off-the-cuff speeches, spontaneous moments, and unscripted moments are not what President Obama is comfortable with. That’s okay, however, to be a successful President, he needs to adjust and get out of his comfort zone.
Looking ahead to the second half of Obama’s presidency, he must become more like an “average” voter. He needs to be less scripted, and he needs to provide actions, not just a great speech, to all of the crises, and wars. He’s too protective of not messing up, and I think that is partially reflected by his falling approval rating to 45%. He’s becoming too separated from the very people that elected him. Because Democrats are likely to lose several seats in the midterm elections if Obama wants to see his approval ratings increase again, he will need to work with Republicans to accomplish what he has been good at, being a policy advocate. A looming question in 2012 will be: What do Americans want: a policy advocate or a crisis manager?