OPINION: Step up, take charge and lead the nation, Mr. President

“Hope” is a great word, as is “liberty.” And “change” is nice. I have always been partial to “opportunity.”

They have all been words liberally applied in recent years by those running for office, many of whom have won. We now have a federal government that is dominated by elected people who have promised Hope, Liberty, Change and Opportunity. Where are we? We wait.

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We confront a world where our role is in transition. Our policies in Afghanistan are struggling. The Middle East is in chaos and the cost of oil is threatening to stagger our economy. Our domestic energy policy is essentially non-existent, as is our immigration policy.

We have no good answer for Iran, Pakistan or North Korea, which represent legitimate threats in that they could be sources of weapons of mass destruction that may come under the control of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

Our military is being asked to be nation builders. This is not a proper use of their expertise or people.

Our economy continues to struggle. This is due to many factors, but certainly a large part of the problem is the explosion in the size of the federal government. It has grown from 20 percent of GDP on average since the end of World War II to now absorbing 24 percent and going up.

This, coupled with an explosion of regulatory excess that makes France seem almost laissez-faire, has made the risk of taking risks and investing in new ventures that create jobs problematic.

Agencies like the FDA, EPA and the Labor Department have declared their own jihad against American entrepreneurs, resulting in a deflating of the forces that might give our economy some lift.

All of this is overlaid by a nation on a borrowing binge. Like a gambler who cannot stop placing bets, we continue to run up the debt — only in this case the house is made up of our international competitors, especially China.

No one knows how long they will continue to extend us a line of credit. One thing is obvious, though: we are losing our competitive position and jobs are going with it, as a result of our inability to manage our own fiscal house.

What is the answer to these troubles we face? It could easily be Hope, Change, Liberty and Opportunity. It also takes leadership to execute on these words, and if one thing has been missing in Washington these days, it is leadership.

Issue after issue is allowed to flop along. The need for someone to step up and not only define a path for addressing the challenges but actually lead us down that path could not be more apparent. Does anyone think that FDR, Truman or Reagan would have allowed these issues to fester without setting out proposals to address them? It is inconceivable that these men would have tolerated having America confront these types of challenges in a rudderless boat.

All these good words mean nothing if you do not have leadership to energize them and convert them to action that will move the nation forward and renew our culture. This leadership should come from the president. He is the focal point of our government and he has the ability and responsibility to step in front of the parade.

Yet he does not seem to be inclined to do so. This is strange. Clearly, he understands the issues and the extent of the threat both in the area of international affairs and in the arena of the looming fiscal crisis.

It is difficult to understand his reticence. He set up a commission on fiscal policy and then walked away from its report, leaving it to a small group of senators to try and move the effort. He also seems to have decided to step aside on the world stage and, even in areas where we have a huge investment such as Afghanistan, the policy is adrift.

This administration seems to be subject to a paralysis that is driven, one presumes, by an over-arching desire to set up for the reelection effort. No one should fault them for wanting to be strongly positioned for reelection. One of the best ways to do this would be to lead on these critical issues, give our nation a clear plan for our role in the world, our approach to Islamic fundamentalism and our massive debt problem.

The nation needs and the world needs the president to lead us on a course that will restore hope, change the tenor of the times, ensure and expand liberty and promote opportunity.


Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and also as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.