I saw a great political cartoon where Obama is wearing a button in 2008 saying “Yes we can.” Four years later, his button reads “We could do a whole lot worse.”
After a successful re-election, 2013 will go down as a forgettable year for Barack Obama, who is in danger of falling into the same trap as Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and George W. Bush: having a second term that’s worse than the first. That will be the case, unless he learns how to develop an effective management style.
When he came into office, Obama was considered someone who would be a nice guy and a good speaker, but not be able to get a lot done. They forgot that even though he was only in the U.S. Senate a short time, he was an apt pupil. As a result, he was able to get more through Congress than presidents like Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Not only was he able to have his stimulus package and Affordable Care Act go through Congress, but he was able to shoehorn in some controversial cabinet nominees (like Chuck Hagel) and liberal Supreme Court picks. Having a filibuster proof Senate helped, but the upper branch of the legislature can be a squirrely place to get something through, even with 60 seats at times. And some of those legislative victories came when the Republicans retook the House of Representatives and trimmed his Senate margin.
But as Obama learned in 2013, governance isn’t just about passing laws, or winning court cases. It’s about a management style which leads the government to put out a workable product. And the rollout of the ACA resembled Sir Richard Attenborough’s assessment of Disney on its first day in the film Jurassic Park.
It wasn’t just health care that gave the administration headaches. The National Security Agency surveillance program cost him support with liberals, moderates, and younger people, yet there’s been little in the way of articulating what the government is going to do in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. Are we sticking with the Bush-era program? Are we expanding it or contracting it? The silence from Washington, DC is deafening. And Democrats couldn’t get modest gun show loopholes closed.
I know Obama has other items on his agenda. He badly wants immigration reform. He has some ideas about environmentally-friendly policies. And he wants some changes in education. He probably wants to revisit guns. But he won’t get any of them until he shows that he can manage the programs that already passed. Those words were pretty much uttered by a Republican on the subject of immigration reform, which several in the GOP actually want to endorse.
The solution involves going back to basics. He’s learned something from planning the passage of laws, as well as a few foreign policy successes, to accomplish this. And his understanding of how Capitol Hill works is better than outsider governors like Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush had. But he needs to be more hands-on in administering policies, and delegate more of gathering support for future bills to allies from both parties on Capitol Hill. In other words, he needs to focus a lot more on the executive branch, and less on the legislative branch.
If he doesn’t, we may find that Obama could do a whole lot worse.