February 11, 2009

Please, Let There Be Another Explanation

Please, Let There Be Another Explanation

One of the things I was most excited about with an Obama presidency was that it finally seemed as if we had a real leader in the hot seat.  Someone who might actually be able to run an effective government instead of a bureaucracy paralyzed by partisanship.  I still have this hope.

But I also hope what we’re seeing around the stimulus bill is not what we’re in for the next four years.  What I’m seeing is a complete absence of leadership around the problem.  Seems to me, taking lessons from the corporate world, that Obama should have done two things that would have gotten the program passed in a bipartisan way much more quickly:

1. Build true consensus ahead of time and make the congressional leaders do the sales job in a bipartisan way.  It’s great that Obama went up to the Republican caucus to talk to them and get their point of view, but shouldn’t he have gathered the top 2-3 leaders of each party and each house of congress in his office (or in theirs) to whiteboard this whole thing out ahead of time, so that those people could be bought in and then go on to convince others?  Few successful major corporate initiatives are launched without a careful eye to how all major stakeholders will react so that the majority will be on board.

2. Link the plan to the election in an obvious way.  Obama can credibly claim that the election was a decisive call for change.  He can also credibly claim a small number of priority items that clearly emerged as points of change — reducing/eliminating our dependence on foreign oil, vastly expanded access to health care, reducing taxes on the middle class, and fixing the problem of the revolving door between lobbyists and government as the relevant ones here (there are others around foreign policy and the wars, of course).  Why isn’t the stimulus package pumping money in the economy to the specific ends that were articulated during the campaign, at least for 60-80% of the money, anyway? Seems to me like that’s the best way not just to sell the program to Congress and the American people, but to actually have it stand for something other than 535 people’s pet local projects.  Again, in corporate America, once everyone has agreed on a strategy and goals, it’s much easier to define a path forward around how to execute the details.

I hope something else is going on here — perhaps Obama just wants to make Congress look like a bunch of idiots, so they self destruct and ultimately yield more power to the White House — but my fear is that our new leader needs some lessons in leadership.

4 responses to “Please, Let There Be Another Explanation”

  1. Matt,

    I'm disappointed with the current stimulus package too. It's distressing when there have been huge promises of legitimate spending on infrastructure. Yet, the recent numbers I've seen have infrastructure spending at less than $75 billion from the entire bill. And there's lots of other examples too. Also, I'm leery of spending the amount of money that they're planning to spend on education – with the current system for distributing that education money. About 3-4 years ago, maybe a little longer, there were several investigative stories about a federal program for technology spending at schools. Reporters found stacks of unopened computers that were ordered by people who didn't know the first thing about building a schoolwide network, etc.

    However, I have to disagree with your first point. I think Obama did make an honest effort at encouraging Republicans in joining him in bipartisanship. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, Republicans are interpreting bipartisanship as acquiescing to a popular president. And, if they do try to work with the current administration, they risk being attacked by Rush Limbaugh or other right wing Republicans. And those attacks could leave them vulnerable with supporters.

    In most corporations, you do have people looking for consensus decisions. In today's political climate, how can you achieve consensus, when Republicans who are out of power, view consensus as weakness? If Obama could figure that one out, he'd truly be a great leader.

    Jeff Rutherford

  2. Don’t get me wrong.  I think the Republicans in Congress are a disaster here.  I just think Obama should have done more than just talk to them.  He needed to engage their leadership in forming the plan.

  3. Mitch says:

    I'm supporting President Obama on this one, if not totally the stimulus package. It's been shown that the Republicans had no interest in working with him, because it's the first time since 2002 that the Republicans actually all agreed on anything. They let this mess get this way by killing the surplus we had under Clinton, and then they wanted to push more of the same thing that didn't work under Bush. They got their tax breaks; if I'd been president, things would have stayed status quo, if only because of the financial situation, otherwise we'd have had tax increases to the rich, at least.

    The majority will side with Obama either way right now, because at least he's trying to do something. He did try to work with the Republicans, and in the end, only 3 supported him. I guess that's just how it's going to be until 2010.

  4. Don’t get me wrong – I think the Republican attitude in Congress is horrendous, and they’re being obstructionist.  I just think there were better ways to lead on this one.