Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Last night the president gave his speech. Immediately after the speech, I talked to some friends and conversed back-and-forth about speech with others on Facebook. From all that, two things became clearer about last night.

First, President Obama does not understand what it means to be a leader. president Obama is very good when it comes to talking about ideals. In a way, he could be some sort of oratorical inspirational. Chicken soup for the soul type of person. And he will you could do that very well. But that's not what his job is. Barack Obama is the President of the United States. He is supposed to be a leader.

A leader can operate in many ways. He can do that passively. He can do it actively. He can do it by playing one side off the other. When the leader has to do in order for people to follow him is to set out a goal for where he wants to lead the people to. it's not enough to say that the leader wants his people to be happy, healthy, prosperous. Something that Gary and vague doesn't tell people where the leader wants to go or how he wants to get there.

In his speech, president Obama was referring to the "Sputnik moment", for this generation. From this "moment", that he never defines, he hopes to usher in a new era in technology and industry, which will help secure the nation's prosperity going forward. The problem is, he never says where he wants to go. This is what he said,
   This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
He goes on to recount how advances are being made in the fields of renewable energy. Then he issues, what he believes, is an echo of Eisenhower's and Kennedy's call to surpass the Soviets in space race. He says,
 That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Eisenhower and Kennedy both had the same goal in mind. To combat the threat posed by the Soviets and their space program, we would develop a program which would go further, faster then the Soviets. President Eisenhower confronted the actual Sputnik moment with both short-term and long-term solutions, but all of these laid out clearly. He told the nation where he wanted to see the country go. First, he wanted to see the country get a satellite in orbit. Second, he accelerated the development of IRBM's. Third, he just of the priorities in his budget. Fourth, he invested in education with the National Defense Education Act.

His successor, President Kennedy, went further. He laid out a goal, that within 10 years the United States would place a man on the moon.

President Obama did not do that. He basically said, "If you tell me where to go, and I like it, I'll give you money." That's not leadership. That's playing it incredibly safe. Its like voting present, something President Obama learned how to do in Illinois Legislature.

Leadership is not easy. Especially when faced with a hostile group of "followers". President Obama is far from unique in having a hostile Congress to contend with. When faced with the Republican successes in the 1994 mid-term elections, President Clinton realized that while he had to change tactics and goals, he did not have to abdicate the position of leadership. In his 1995 State of the Union, he said,

So let this be the year we end welfare as we know it. But also let this be the year that we are all able to stop using this issue to divide America. No one is more eager to end welfare— [applause]—I may be the only President who has actually had the opportunity to sit in a welfare office, who's actually spent hours and hours talking to people on welfare. And I am telling you, the people who are trapped on it know it doesn't work; they also want to get off. So we can promote, together, education and work and good parenting. I have no problem with punishing bad behavior or the refusal to be a worker or a student or a responsible parent. I just don't want to punish poverty and past mistakes. All of us have made our mistakes, and none of us can change our yesterdays. But every one of us can change our tomorrows. And America's best example of that may be Lynn Woolsey, who worked her way off welfare to become a Congresswoman from the State of California

I have proposed the middle class bill of rights, which should properly be called the bill of rights and responsibilities because its provisions only benefit those who are working to educate and raise their children and to educate themselves. It will, therefore, give needed tax relief and raise incomes in both the short run and the long run in a way that benefits all of us.

There are four provisions. First, a tax deduction for all education and training after high school. If you think about it, we permit businesses to deduct their investment, we permit individuals to deduct interest on their home mortgages, but today an education is even more important to the economic well-being of our whole country than even those things are. We should do everything we can to encourage it. And I hope you will support it. Second, we ought to cut taxes $500 for families with children under 13. Third, we ought to foster more savings and personal responsibility by permitting people to establish an individual retirement account and withdraw from it, tax-free, for the cost of education, health care, first-time homebuying, or the care of a parent. And fourth, we should pass a "GI bill" for America's workers. We propose to collapse nearly 70 Federal programs and not give the money to the States but give the money directly to the American people, offer vouchers to them so that they, if they're laid off or if they're working for a very low wage, can get a voucher worth $2,600 a year for up to 2 years to go to their local community colleges or wherever else they want to get the skills they need to improve their lives. Let's empower people in this way, move it from the Government directly to the workers of America.

Confronted with a walloping in the mid-term elections, Clinton came out and spelled out what he wanted to do. He didn't say, we'll see what other people can come up with. He came out and said to the US people, many of whom were not supporting him at that point, "This is where I want to lead you."

Going back to Reagan's State of the Union Address in 1983, after he had been handed a setback in the mid-term election, he too displayed leadership which was and is lacking in the Obama Administration. Reagan. Like Obama, he was faced with pressures in foreign policy and an economy struggle to get out of the mismanagement of the previous officeholder. He came out and stated the problem simply and effectively, saying,
The problems we inherited were far worse than most inside and out of government had expected; the recession was deeper than most inside and out of government had predicted. Curing those problems has taken more time and a higher toll than any of us wanted. Unemployment is far too high. Projected Federal spending -- if government refuses to tighten its own belt -- will also be far too high and could weaken and shorten the economic recovery now underway.
Sounds like it should have been said last night, doesn't it? But Reagan, facing a Congress now controlled by the Democrats, came out and refused to back off from the themes he had come to the presidency with. To the Congress, he stated, that his priorities were jobs, restraining or freezing federal spending, and exporting our democratic values abroad.

Our current officeholder, as is his practice, could not muster any leadership. He spoke of ideals that all could agree with, but when you look at what he really said, the specifics, or even the general direction of what he wants is sadly lacking.

Second, he and his speech writers do not under the "Sputnik moment", nor could they say what it is. Rather than set forth a goal to work towards, he looked to the past to burnish what he had to say. However, looking to the past, when the accomplishments are not your own, can only yield a pale, reflection.

As Americans, we face serious problems. Problems which need to be confronted head on. Is the Obamacare plan going to yield the savings they say? Or is it a boondoggle which will further drive this country into debt?

How do we deal with pensions and Social Security when we have no money to pay them, and we already have more debt than at any other time in our nation's history?

How do we deal with the challenge posed to us by both militant Islam and a China that wants to assert its place as world power?

Our president did not offer us a plan for going forward. He offered to "invest" or spend money on unstated programs with unknown goals. Are his "investments" that or are they another attempt at Keynsian economics which has resulted in long term unemployment of over 9% (hitting 12% here in California).

This may be fiction, but then again what leader does not want to be able to give the Henry V speech at Agincourt? President Obama once again had a moment to display strength of character. Once again, he showed he is a man who can read a teleprompter and spout platitudes that few can find argument.

Say what you want about the rebuttal from the GOP that followed. In my opinion, Congressman Ryan came across as a policy wonk trying to be an orator. But at least he laid the problem. He articulated a solution. Some have suggested that Ryan's rebuttal was one based in fear. But listening to it, I heard a man trying to express that for us to be the nation we hoped we would be, we have to make tough decisions now. To trust that the people, who have always provided the entrepeneurship in almost every major endeavour of this country outside of war, will do so again... provided we do not create a monstrosity which inhibits their ability to do so.

President Obama, as polished as he was last night, did not lay out why his plan would work because he did not lay out a plan. His speech, written by people who do not understand history except to use as an exclamation point, missed that. You learn from history. You do not use it as a cover for when you have failed to devise a way forward because you are unwilling to accept the task as it is given to you, rather than as you want it to be.

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