Obama thinks like a legislator — and that doesn’t cut it
RICH MILLER email@example.com September 22, 2011 8:44PM
Updated: November 10, 2011 5:04PM
It’s generally considered a rule of thumb that politicians with mainly legislative backgrounds do not make particularly effective chief executives. The two worlds, and their required mind-sets, are vastly different.
And, for the most part, our state’s better governors and our country’s most effective presidents for the past 100 years or so have had executive experience before moving to the top of the ladder. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about legislatures, and I’ve been thinking lately that many of President Barack Obama’s bungles can be traced right to this issue.
Obama never really ran anything before being elected. But, more importantly, he also learned over the years to think like a legislator. Judging from afar, I don’t believe he has truly changed his mind-set.
Obama scored his biggest win in the Illinois Senate by working with Republicans to pass an ethics reform bill. It wasn’t easy. Republican Senate President Pate Philip was no reformer and was also exceedingly hostile to the minority party and minorities in general. But Obama helped fashion a compromise that could pass muster with the Republicans. It wasn’t a great bill, but it was something, and something was judged as far better than nothing. Since then, two governors have been convicted of corruption, but Obama got his bill passed, so, whatever.
When he arrived in the U.S. Senate, Obama found himself again in the minority party. One of the first things he did was attach himself to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. He reveled in working with the other side.
Obama firmly believed his success at working with Republicans would help him be a better president. Heck, I thought the same thing during his campaign. So far, we’ve both been wrong.
After he was elected president, Obama was no longer a member of a large, mostly collegial group. Many of the same people who once gladly worked with him immediately vowed to block his every move.
Instead of realizing that the game had completely changed, Obama continued to approach Congress as if he were still a member of their club.
We all know what has happened since then. One grand plan after another was either watered down into ineffectiveness or, in the case of health-care reform, absolute confusion, or just defeated outright.
The idea always seemed to be to pass a big, sweeping, bipartisan bill, not to truly solve the problem at hand. This is a peculiarly legislative approach to life and it’s why we need a strong, involved executive to make sure things actually get done right.
Legislators regularly score points with the folks back home by talking about all the bills they’ve voted for or against, regardless of whether their vote really mattered. Sprinkle a local project here and a local project there and they’re deemed successful.
Presidents are judged on an entirely different level. Not only do they have to pass big legislation, but that big legislation has to work in the real world.
So, Obama can talk about his stimulus bill until he’s blue in the face, but the hard truth is it didn’t perform as advertised.
He can pat himself on the back for health-care reform, but nobody understands it and it’s not running yet.
And he can blame the Republicans for bringing us to the brink of default, but the president will always wear the jacket. He cannot hide within that faceless group of congressmen. He belongs to a club of one.
Legislators pass bills in order to check them off their lists. Executives have to make sure those bills actually perform as promised. Obama has never really done that, and he’s paying the price now.