Luka Ladan Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 8:00amGuest Post by
No deal, still.
As January 1st and the New Year’s festivities approach rapidly, lawmakers remain deadlocked in Washington (well, some are actually still on Christmas vacation) over the impending “fiscal cliff” and appropriate alternatives to a significant economic downsizing. The Obama Administration and John Boehner’s staunch Republican opposition continue to punch, duck, and counterpunch, with tax changes and entitlement reform at the heart of the disconnect.
We know the basics. Tax cuts versus tax increases. Cuts in government spending versus the status quo. But, what does the American public think about the debacle in government?
Apparently, most Americans want compromise between the two opposing sides, according to a recent NBC/WSJ poll. And, if no deal is reached in time for the fast-approaching deadline, the majority of the respondents say that they will partition the blame equally between Democrats and Republicans, instead of reverting to black-and-white partisanship (which continues to play too large a role these days, by the way.) Most Americans won’t differentiate between President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and the rest, as they may end up losing confidence in the federal government as a whole.
Well, then, I guess I’m not part of the majority. If the day comes when an agreement between lawmakers isn’t reached and the United States goes over the ominous “cliff,” then I know where my blame will fall. To steal from one Harry Truman, the buck should stop with Barack Hussein Obama.
The president is the man in charge. He transcends government, serving as more than your average governor, congressman, or senator. Icon. Figurehead. Leader of the free world.
President Obama, like all of his predecessors, stands above the intricate details and moveable parts, acting as a steward of something broaderand triggering memories in a greater sense. There is nobody like him. The accomplishments and failures of the nation in its entirety are tied to his name forever. Years pass and the commander-in-chief’s legacy, image, and charisma remain clear as crystal. Fifty years from now, what will President Obama be remembered for? Health care reform. The killing of Osama bin Laden. Perhaps, the cautious intervention in Libya and steady reluctance in regard to war-torn Syria. Eventually, these will be his moments in history – and his alone.
In the National Basketball Association (NBA), a team’s struggles usually spell doom for the head coach, particularly if underachievement is involved somehow. If talent isn’t being maximized and potential isn’t being realized, then the coach is found to be at fault. Just look at this season’s Los Angeles Lakers. Mike Brown was perceived to be the orchestrator of a failed project by those who mattered.
So, back to President Obama.
If the “fiscal cliff” negotiations end up being successful and a long-term bipartisan solution is reached, then the praise will fall on his shoulders. Years down the road, presidential scholars and historians will be scanning the president’s resume, weighing the accomplishments with the failures to produce a final assessment of the Obama Administration in the context of its unique era. A solution to this current budgetary issue would find itself situated on the positive side of the assessment. A bipartisan agreement would be President Obama’s, as much as we like to recognize the smaller pieces of the puzzle and inner workings of a situation.
Similarly, Osama bin Laden was his victory. And, the president definitely seized that golden opportunity as a campaigner, proudly featuring the “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead” slogan up until Election Day 2012, which obviously proved to be a successful day for him. The successes shield the behind-the-scenes work by lesser-known players completely from view, as leaders claim these victories for themselves — and themselves only. The buck stops with the president, the CEO, the architect.
Here’s an example. President Obama’s approach to foreign policy issues earns the “Obama Doctrine” title, just as the Reagan Doctrine, Bush Doctrine, and others describe entire periods of foreign relations with allies and competitors alike. The other members of these respective administrations, no matter their specific positions, ultimately get lost in the shuffle, as years slowly turn to decades. Sorry, Hillary.
When something goes right and the president interprets it as his doing, then the same logic must apply to the opposite situation — when something goes wrong, perhaps even terribly wrong.
In the end, we remember that the Iran-Contra affair happened under President Reagan’s watch, regardless of his minimal role in the actual policymaking and increased detachment toward the end of his second term. We don’t remember Oliver North. Decades pass and John Poindexter doesn’t stick in our mind. The Reagan Administration as a whole shouldered the blame, nobody more so than the commander-in-chief, who assumes the most important position in the political process and sits at the helm of America’s democratic government. The nuts and bolts are forgotten, while the most integral piece to the puzzle can’t escape the scrutiny of the public. There are countless instances of this.
President Johnson is still associated with the escalation of the Vietnam War, while President Nixon cannot escape the gloom of Watergate. Sexual transgressions have forever tainted the legacies of several American presidents, most notably John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is President Bush’s and nobody else’s. That was his war — not Dick Cheney’s, not Colin Powell’s, and not Donald Rumsfeld’s — and the controversies that surround it will forever swirl around the presidency of George W. Bush, like vultures preying on a weakened prey. Decades removed from the time of a specific crisis, the man in charge will permeate our collective psyche.
Let’s not forget this. Because the Lakers were struggling to beat even the lowliest of NBA teams early on in the season, the head coach took the hit. The struggles took place on Mike Brown’s dime and he paid for them with his job.
The same line of thinking applies to President Obama, as he negotiates with unwavering House Republicans and confronts this present “fiscal cliff” crisis. I won’t spread my blame. The “a little here, a little there” approach doesn’t work for me when the leader is in question. If accomplishment and praise are linked by the president (and the American public) to foster a positive image in the long run, then failure and blame must surely follow suit.
There should be no double standard. If America experiences a severe economic contraction in the coming weeks, God forbid, then the buck must stop with our leader, President Obama.