President Barack Obamas recent actions on the budget, the Middle East and Japan have been called part of his "above-the-fray" strategy, but many media sources arent buying it, as demands for more leadership pile up.
In an Associated Press story from March 12, reporter Jim Kuhnhenn said the presidents strategy is to keep a low profile on high-profile issues.
There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Kuhnhenn. (The public) want him leading the country; they dont want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day.
Just days before embarking on his first official visit to South America, however, the president has come under intense scrutiny from a variety of sources â€” both liberal and conservative â€” for his actions (or inactions) regarding Libya, the national budget and Japan.
Its hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises, John Podhoretz writes in a Commentary Magazine post. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read 'My Pet Goat' for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck. Were going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.
While Japan tries to recover from Fridays 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that left at least 15,000 people dead or missing, a deteriorating nuclear situation and humanitarian challenges are piling up at an alarming rate. In the U.S., much of the criticism of Obamas handling of the situation revolves around what reporter Keith Koffler calls Obamas Trivial Pursuits."
In a blog post, Koffler blamed Senior Adviser David Plouffe and new White House Chief of Staff William Daley for permitting him to showcase himself as a poorly focused leader who has his priorities backward.
Koffler listed the childish distractions as including Obama videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and talking about them on ESPN, a Sunday golf outing, an appearance at the annual Gridiron Dinner, a weekly address focusing on Womens History Month, a White House conference on bullying and a Chicago Bulls game. Jim Geraghty at National Review points out Obama also spent this week talking education reform.
Jake Tapper at ABC News reports that while Obama revealed his NCAA picks on ESPN, he also encouraged those watching to donate to Japan relief. He also discussed Iraq, the Afghanistan war, fighting terrorism, education and other issues at a Thursday Democratic National Committee fundraiser.
In a National Review column, Fred Thompson suggested creating a Bracket of Leadership to help Obama focus.
Dont get me wrong, I like putting together an NCAA basketball tournament bracket just as much as the next guy, Thompson writes. But the difference between President Obama and the rest of us is that we arent calling a meeting of the White House communications staff to rehearse our bracket unveils for a national TV audience while ducking national-security issues, budget negotiations, Social Security reform meetings ... you get the idea.
White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to the criticisms, saying it was appropriate for the president to fill out a bracket, as he also used that time to ask for donations to help Japan.
There are crises all the time, and for every president. And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe, and it is important, and it is the focus of a great deal of the presidents attention, as are the events in the Middle East, as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in American and make sure we out-innovate, out-build and out-educate the competition in the 21st century, Carney said.
Obama made a statement about Japan at the White House Thursday, calling for a safety review of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. and saying officials do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the West Coast, ABC News reports.
As the Libyan government launched airstrikes on Benghazi, a rebel stronghold, Obamas vacillations on solutions to the crisis are drawing harsh condemnation from U.S. and international media outlets.
In the Ottawa Citizen, historian J.L. Granatstein writes that the Libyan revolution revealed the administrations weakness and indecisiveness.
At a minimum, the promise of two years ago has been dashed completely, at least in the Middle East, Granatstein states. The Obama administration has been weak, unfaithful to its friends, and unwilling to strike at its enemies either militarily or diplomatically. Despite its economic problems, Iran is the catbird seat. Is it too soon to declare Obamas American foreign policy an unmitigated disaster?
The Canadian National Post compares the Bush doctrine with the Obama retreat, saying that as usual, if the U.S. doesnt lead or act on its own, then nothing gets done.
So theres your comparison, the article states. A president who takes action he knows is unpopular but actually gets something done, or a president who does nothing for fear of the backlash? Or try this: if you had a chance, would you rather be an Iraqi right now, or a Libyan rebel faced with a resurgent Gadhafi regime?
The New Republics Leon Wieseltier calls the Obama administrations policy toward Libya a disgrace, saying that the president is prepared to act, just not consequentially.
If Moammar Gadhafi takes Benghazi, it will be Barack Obamas responsibility. That is what it means to be the American president. The American president cannot but affect the outcome. That is his burden and his privilege. He has the power to stop such an atrocity, so if the atrocity is not stopped it will be because he chose not to use his power.
In The Business Insider, Bob Adams accuses the president of fiddling while Libya burns, a charge that is echoed at The New York Times, while the New York Daily News declares that American leadership is missing from Libya. The Daily reports Thursday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is fed up with a president who cant make his mind up and will not rejoin Obama in 2012, even if he is reelected.
A Heritage Foundation blog post calls the policy an example of the failure of the Obama Doctrine.
The Obama Doctrine is ill-suited to dealing with the world as it is, the post states. It assumed that big problems can be solved with big words while the messy details take care of themselves.
According to a Fox News article, Carney defended the administrations pace, saying that Americans dont want the president to act in a unilateral way without taking careful consideration of the consequences.
Budget and debt
In a March 8 speech from the Senate floor, Joe Manchin, D-W Va., placed the blame for on-again, off-again government shutdown talks in Washington, D.C., on Obama, saying that the president has failed to lead.
In a Salon article, editor Andrew Leonard echoes Manchin, asking where the presidents leadership on the budget issue is, saying Obama is laying low to avoid giving Republicans ammunition.
"This is no doubt at least partially true, but its a pathetic shield to hide behind, Leonard writes.
According to an article on the Huffington Post, other Democrats like Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., also expressed frustration with the presidents leadership. In regards to the budget, Weiner said Obama needed to be forthright about what budget cuts he is willing to negotiate on, and he hasnt done that yet.
On Wednesday, 23 Republican Senators sent a letter to the president asking for his help in finding solutions to the nations entitlement spending.
In order to ensure the long-term viability of these programs, it is imperative that you lead a bipartisan effort to address these challenges, the letter states. Last years National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform marked an important first step in identifying a potential path forward. Strong leadership is needed now to advance possible solutions to ensure that our entitlement programs can serve both current and future generations.
In an Investors Business Daily editorial, the president is accused of playing small ball by dodging leadership on the budget issue.
As the federal government goes deeper into debt but keeps expanding, we have a president using the bully pulpit to generate enthusiasm for Washington bureaucrats supervising kids elementary school recess, the editorial states. Instead of videotaping basketball picks, why isnt Obama working hard to find common ground with House Republicans as they craft proposals for the fundamental reform of Medicare and Medicaid?
While criticisms on Libya, Japan and the budget issue build, some are coming to the presidents defense, blaming both parties for the inactivity in Washington.
The Washington Monthly answers the criticism, saying presidents can walk, chew gum and fill out brackets at the same time. The article then goes on to argue that House Republicans are wasting time on health care bills, abortion bills, climate bills and budget bills that have no chance of passing.
A National Journal article echoes the argument that both parties are to blame, calling Republicans and the president the dueling do-nothings of D.C. The article goes on to list a number of superficial bills Republicans have put forward, dealing with things like NPR funding. The article states that Obama, on the other hand, is indulging in yet another decadent distraction: an official trip to Rio.
The only point wed add to this debate is it is quite possible that both sides are right, the article concludes.
U.S. News writer Leslie Marshall says the rights criticism of Obama on Japan and the budget ring hollow, because theyre not telling the whole story.
What does the right want from this man? she asks. Maybe if he had spoken about Japan a few weeks ago he could have single-handedly stopped the earthquake and tsunami, right!?!! And of course, speaking in Libya, he could stop the madman at the helm, their leader, their dictator!?!
Calling Obamas style of leadership calm assertiveness, Huffington Post contributor Joan E. Dowlin states that, President Obama, with his serene confidence, in two short years has calmed the financial markets, rescued the car manufacturers, improved the economy, lowered the unemployment rate (a work in progress), passed national health care reform and overall given Americans hope for the future. All occurring while the world is in a state of upheaval.
She concludes, Is there a better person suited for this job right now? I think not.