A disengaged presidency

Let’s begin a thoughtful discussion about the about the dangers of a disengaged presidency while the nation is challenged by multiple wars, punishing unemployment and a festering fiscal crisis that will someday explode, unless it is addressed credibly.

The governing style and political strategy of President Obama simultaneously hurts the reelection prospects of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and delays crucial decisions that require strong hands-on leadership from the president.

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Obama's governing style is to remain as distant as possible, for as long as possible, from the nasty details of major policy decisions as Congress and the nation face domestic and foreign challenges on multiple fronts in real time.

Obama's political strategy is to position himself as the lofty leader above the fray, appealing to voters who tell pollsters that "we must work together" without risking his elevated image of possessing the hands-on executive leadership that is required to make hard decisions on tough issues in a  divided government.

The genesis of the problem can be found in comments Obama made several times before the 2008 election. His political vision of himself, prior to November 2008, was a Rorschach candidate. He deliberately encouraged voters with widely differing views to simultaneously see themselves in him.

A Rorschach campaign for a little-known candidate might be brilliant. A Rorschach presidency when the nation faces multiple challenges delays decisions that are urgently needed, destroys the narrative of his own party and creates greater divisions within a Congress the president is triangulating himself against.

I support the president's decision regarding Libya, but it was delayed too long, and was not explained coherently for reasons endemic to the Obama governing style and political strategy.

The president seeks to elevate his own image as the lofty post-partisan figure at the expense of further destroying public confidence in the institution of Congress and public support for both parties in Congress, who are seen as small-minded partisans the post-partisan president elevates himself above.

It would have been far better for Democrats, Congress and the healthcare bill if the president had aggressively intervened eight months earlier than he did. It would have been far better for Democrats and the jobless if the president had used those eight months in 2009 to have forcefully pushed for more action to create jobs when Democrats had large legislative majorities.

The hands-off governing style and above-the-fray political strategy was a disaster for Democrats in 2010, whose base became depressed and whose elected officials either chose not to run again or were widely defeated in elections for the House, the Senate, governorships and state legislatures.

It is not acceptable when the real jobless rate is 15.9 percent, when housing foreclosures continue at punishing levels, when the deficit and debt time bombs move closer to exploding, when gasoline prices move toward $4 per gallon (and ultimately much higher), and when American forces are engaged in multiple combat missions without the American people being fully engaged in any of them.

The disengaged presidency creates equal dangers for the GOP, which is often dominated by voices far to the right of mainstream voters and far too prone to take extreme positions that play well with the conservative base but could alienate all other voters in 2012.

I want President Obama to succeed and urgent national challenges to be seriously addressed. This is not happening today.

Let’s begin a thoughtful discussion about the dangers of a disengaged presidency. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.