Saturday, March 15, 2014

Obama Collides with the Scenery

Balloonists have an unsurpassed view of the scenery, but there is always a possibility that it may collide with them.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956),  The Bend in the Tube

I  think  of President Obama as a balloonist,  hovering  above the scenery.   From up there, the scenery looks beautiful, green and lush and full of promise, hope, and change.    But as an Irish farmer said of the Irish landscape,  “You can’t eat the scenery.”  Sooner or later, balloonists  must descend.  You cannot always pick the landing site. It may be in the top of a tree, in the middle of a field, or deep in a swamp. 

Today President Obama finds himself  in the swamp  with low personal  and health law approval ratingsaveraging about 40% in national polls.  The prospects for regaining the House and keeping the Senate look glum, and his personal governing style, integrity, and lack of accountability under attack.

In the latest of these attacks,  this one  not on him personally but on the federal bureaucracy, which Obama oversees,  an HHS official, in a resignation letter,  David Wright, Director of the Office of Research Integrity,  says the bureaucracy is  secretive, autocratic, and unaccountable.

To critics, there is substance to this remark -  the Administration is secretive  about what went on in the IRS,  at Benghazi, within the launch team, or what the health exchange signup numbers are.  Obama  is autocratic in the sense that he vows to defy Congress with his “pen and phone” rather than compromise or negotiate.   And nobody,  the likes of which include Lois Lerner of the IRS or members of the launch teams, takes a direct hit from the executive office by being fired. 

This  governing style ,  says David Wright,  creates a “deeply dysfunctional bureaucracy” and are not features which characterize a successful organization – transparency, power-sharing,  shared decision making,  and shared accountability.   

 As President, you cannot share everything.  Power and information sharing is  hard to do, when you are a balloonist in your own mind.   You have a lofty reputation, lofty goals, and a lofty legacy to protect,  and power sharing is not something that comes easily to you.   

Besides, you cannot share everything with the public, the media,  and your political opponents,  like national intelligence data  or your political strategies.  The scenery may look greener to your opponents,  but you know better.

Tweet:   President Obama may choose to be above the fray. He can be held more accountable but he cannot  be totally transparent or share all power.

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