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The Mystery of Obama's Relationship with Power

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Headlined to H2 6/29/10

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Nobody becomes president of the United States without being highly motivated to have power. "The most powerful man in the world" is a position that attracts those who want power --for whatever reason-- strongly enough to work extremely hard, and make great sacrifices, to achieve it. Obama's route to the Oval Office was not as long and arduous as many who have been elected president --and the many, many others who have pursued that goal for a lifetime, but without success-- but seek it he did, and with great energy.

So we may assume that power is something that Obama was highly motivated to possess.

But something strange happened pretty much as soon has he gained that power he sought: he began to give it away. Not all of it, of course: Obama has used power to achieve a number of goals, and the list of his accomplishments in a year and a half is becoming more impressive all the time. But, as I've been arguing here in various ways --first tentatively, and then with conviction-- Obama COULD have been far more powerful a force on the American political system than he has been. And if one looks at how he's conducted his presidency since he was inaugurated, one discovers a mystery: a man who worked very hard to gain power has seemed, since he acquired it, to have a strangely ambivalent relationship with that power.

The evidence for that ambivalence lies in the ways he's given that power away. I will note three major ways in which he's done so.

First, when it came to the most urgent order of business he faced upon assuming office --the stimulus package-- he assumed a very hands-off posture, handing the task over to Congress along with a few general principles. Instead of asking Congress to work with him to pass HIS bill, he hung back and ended up signing Congress's bill. Aside from the fact that the bill he signed was likely inferior to one that he could have achieved by taking more of a leadership role in the process, what one sees here is that OBAMA GAVE AWAY HIS POWER TO HIS ALLIES. And he has continued to do this with subsequent important legislation, including especially the health care reform bill.

Not every president defers this way to Congressional initiative. Why did Obama?


Second, consider Obama's response to the approach taken to his presidency by the Republican opposition. From the very outset, the Republicans decided that making him fail was their overriding political goal, and they pursued that goal without principle or scruple. No lie, no accusation, no misrepresentation, was off-limits, if the Republicans beileved it would advance their goal of discrediting, weakening, and defeating the president. So how did President Obama respond?

This is the subject on which, more than any other, I've felt called to speak as forcefully as I can. This is the subject which was at the heart of that piece of mine --posted as "If I Could Give President Obama a Message, in 800 Words" at http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=5190-- that was published in December in the Baltimore Sun as an open letter to the president. For it was here more than any other single place that Obama surrendered power.

By almost completely ignoring and almost completely failing to punish his opposition's atrocious, dishonest, immoral, and destructive conduct, President OBAMA SURRENDERED A HUGE AMOUNT OF HIS POWER TO HIS ENEMIES.

(Hence it is that despite the stimulus having created around two million jobs, the American people don't think it has worked; that despite more than 95 percent of Americans having been given a tax cut by Obama, less than 15 percent believe they've gotten one; that despite the health care bill being an important step forward for a country that's been paying twice as much as anyone else in the world for health care that is less good, the bill has been unpopular.)

He gave away power to his allies. He forfeited power to his enemies. And finally, there's a third way he's surrendered his power: this has been the topic of my recent series on how "Transformational Leadership Requires the Power of Inspiration."

The man who rode to power by connecting with millions of the American people at the feeling level stopped doing so once in office.

Once in a while he'd deliver a speech that showed that he still had his rhetorical gifts. But for the most part, once he was IN power, President Obama cut himself off from the force of the emotional connection that had been the SOURCE of his power.

Why? Why would a man who wanted power strongly enough to drive toward it with a single-minded passion for several years then, once the power was his, manifest this pattern of forfeiting the power that had been handed him?

Within mere weeks of assuming office, all three of these power-surrendering moves on the part of the president had become established as part of his pattern of operation. Why, having achieved the pinnacle of power, did this man --I believe a fine and intelligent man-- undertake a course that would diminish the scope and power of his leadership?

In this piece, it is not my intention to venture any answer to that question. For now, it is enough simply to present the mystery.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
 
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Obama really wants to be accepted as legitimate by... by public takeover on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 1:05:28 PM
Russian philosopher Plechanov defined a leader as ... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 1:16:27 PM
An office defines the borders of power. Whether on... by Margaret Bassett on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 2:31:54 PM
He HAD to hold those before him accountable for th... by Aurora on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 4:30:21 PM
Why did he lie? He is not in charge at all, someon... by Debbie S on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 5:03:27 PM
And he's looking for a cool path. The problem is, ... by marko polo on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 8:04:07 PM
USA CITIZENS DON'T WANT TO DIE FOR USA, THEY WANT ... by LincolnMarx on Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010 at 11:52:01 PM
I think the key to this mystery lies in Obama's tr... by Perry Logan on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 6:05:05 AM
Whether you are right or wrong, Perry Logan, in yo... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 9:50:08 AM
Different people accept and adapt to power in diff... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 8:11:50 AM
We have seen, as Obama faced the gulf disaster, a ... by Rob Kall on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 8:19:49 AM
You have to kill the queen bee.Excessive talk abou... by Ned Lud on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 8:48:52 AM
It is NOT a waste of time!It is NOT silly!It is NO... by Debbie S on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 2:16:49 PM
"I fear that Obama's inability, so far, to manifes... by Marika on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 9:20:00 AM
Doesn't it take power to keep steering in the same... by Jill Herendeen on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:11:00 PM
If a president wants to achieve ANYTHING, he needs... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:38:06 PM
Rob, you write: "I fear that Obama's inability, so... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:02:40 AM
You state, "Why, having achieved the pinnacle of p... by boomerang on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 9:58:47 AM
Boomerang writes: "How can you miss this, Andrew?"... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:10:51 AM
The question is, why would a man who has sought an... by Aurora on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:43:07 AM
I don't see how one can say that Obama never had a... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 12:04:59 PM
You're right.Somewhere down the line, he seems to ... by Aurora on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 12:22:04 PM
As a British citizen I watched the Obama campaign ... by Andy_Pandy on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 2:35:12 PM
An overrated ceremonial position, much like that o... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Friday, Jul 2, 2010 at 11:29:47 PM
Andrew, you ask "Why" he gave it away, but another... by Aurora on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:56:38 AM
"He has no Moral Compass?"Really?? You honestly be... by E. Nelson on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:30:04 AM
This article raises a very interesting question. I... by Sally McMillan on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:11:28 AM
I agree with you, Sally McMillan, that Obama seems... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 12:01:03 PM
Cast my comments into the irrelevent heap. But you... by boomerang on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:27:51 AM
The question of why Clinton and Woods undid themse... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:56:33 AM
It is easier for a camel to go threw a eye of a ne... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 12:44:30 PM
Ithink it's much simpler: He wanted to be the firs... by bruce powell on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:57:29 AM
Every year until he DIES, he will pull in a jolly ... by Jill Herendeen on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:16:19 PM
Aurora is right. Obama never had any power and he ... by Evelyn Pringle on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 11:58:40 AM
His background was as a facilitator not a leader. ... by Philip Pease on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 12:55:14 PM
Like Sally McMillan's idea, above, about Obama wan... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:46:18 PM
and I think that aside of the conspiracy theories ... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:53:48 PM
Obama has no goal, you say. OK, but did you experi... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 4:37:44 PM
Obama lacks clear goals--so far. Part of it may re... by Margaret Bassett on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 2:28:11 PM
More on the idea that Obama has no goals. He was a... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 6:15:56 PM
I may be damned for this but anyone that believes ... by Andy_Pandy on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 7:46:03 PM
Our democracy is in bad shape, but it's been in ba... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 7:58:16 PM
Thank you for your reply.I'm not so sure we are no... by Andy_Pandy on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010 at 9:13:08 PM
I agree with you a 100%.Congress men have debates ... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 8:41:21 AM
You have to be a very idealistic person not to se... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 8:44:17 AM
I couldn't believe my ears when Hillary said all t... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 9:15:42 AM
I'd say it's anyone who seems underappreciated. In... by Margaret Bassett on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 9:31:34 AM
In my view, Margaret, that won't do. We're a year ... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 9:59:04 AM
Great posts all, Thank you for posting your though... by witch1 on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 10:02:57 AM
Well said. I notice the same things you did.You kn... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:26:11 AM
The MHI ( Money, Hypocricy and Ignorance) syndrom ... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:50:52 AM
Sarah Palin: The new Jezebel. The false Prophet, f... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 1:48:26 PM
Thank you, Debra for your comment...The fact is ev... by witch1 on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:52:07 AM
Greatest generation, my foot! I was born in 22. Go... by Margaret Bassett on Thursday, Jul 1, 2010 at 12:34:46 PM
Obama was not elected, he was selected, by Wall St... by Linda Ferland on Friday, Jul 2, 2010 at 2:58:25 PM
This article reminds me of an experience many year... by tanya on Friday, Jul 2, 2010 at 4:56:46 PM
I basically agree with your analysis of the nature... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Friday, Jul 2, 2010 at 5:18:46 PM
Andrew,Are you an apologist?Tanya is right and you... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Friday, Jul 2, 2010 at 11:34:19 PM
Having read through 50+ comments on your original ... by Andy_Pandy on Saturday, Jul 3, 2010 at 3:49:14 AM
1.Fascisma.A system of government marked by centra... by Debbie S on Saturday, Jul 3, 2010 at 1:27:47 PM
Sorry, lefty cynical friends, I am not going to yi... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Saturday, Jul 3, 2010 at 6:05:09 AM
I agree with you that there are differences betwee... by Andy_Pandy on Saturday, Jul 3, 2010 at 11:01:45 AM
I don't think I really explained myself. I admit I... by Andy_Pandy on Saturday, Jul 3, 2010 at 12:42:26 PM