By Brent Budowsky - 10/13/09 09:04 PM EDT
Last Friday the president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing. Don’t blame the president. He did not ask for it, and had the grace to say he did not deserve it.
Voters may vote for an idea. Prizes may be awarded for an idea. But war and peace, prosperity and joblessness, legislation and treaties, illness and health, are not decided by the idea of the candidate but the actions of the president who is elected.
What made Roosevelt Roosevelt, Kennedy Kennedy and Reagan Reagan was that the idea of their persona during the campaign was followed by their actions during their presidencies.
This has not happened yet with Barack Obama. The difference between the idea and the actions, the persona and the program, the words and the deeds will ultimately define the success or failure of the Obama presidency.
The Jerusalem Post piece was troubling because it is true. There is a pattern that others repeatedly say no to the president. Passing weak legislation and calling it a “W” does not change the pattern of his presidency or satisfy the powerful yearning for change that is not realized by promises, public relations or the cult of personality.
Virtually every player in the Middle East has said no to the president. Banks and Wall Street say no to the president. The Europe that said yes to the Nobel Prize says no to giving more support for Afghanistan. The president even snubbed the Dalai Lama in anticipation the Chinese would say no. The list is long of those who say no and short of those who say yes.
It is time to worry when “Saturday Night Live” makes fun of the president for achieving so little. It is time for alarm when so many power players believe this president can be rolled. Even a Senate where Democrats have 60 votes shows an almost daily disrespect for the president.
The reason so many power centers, at home and internationally, say no to the president is that they do not know his bottom line. They believe he may shift with the winds. They know he accepts a tiny loaf while claiming a big victory. They believe he can be rolled.
Compare the way Johnson fought for Medicare with the way Obama equivocates on the public option. Compare Roosevelt’s 100 days with the lack of financial reform under Obama. Compare Reagan pushing through huge economic policies early in his term with Obama delivering little more than a stimulus written by others.
The president has described himself as a Rorschach in which others with divergent views project their views onto him. This is brilliant politics in a campaign but a disastrous approach to governing. Opponents become energized, supporters become depressed, power centers become disrespectful, and the president who tries to be many things to many people influences very few to do anything of substance for change.
This president who is widely liked is feared by none. The centrifugal forces from inside Washington to combat theaters abroad revert to form in a divided nation and troubled world. Nothing of historical importance gets done.
The history of successful presidents is clear: They fight for major change. They battle complacency and resistance. They risk losing tactical battles for greater victories. They challenge and inspire supporters to fight great battles for great deeds and inspire fear in opponents who resist.
Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan waged hard battles for great change. They imposed their will on the centers of power and at times told their parties in Congress, as Obama has not: Your president needs you.
Rorschach presidents do not change anything. I pray the president will learn the lessons of history and his own experience, but when he does not, I must dissent.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.