Obama must display 'soft' leadership
By William Fang,Special to The China Post
August 21, 2011, 11:10 pm TWN
Despite criticisms, U.S. President Barack Obama left Washington on Thursday, Aug. 18, for a family holiday at Martha's Vineyard, a favorite vacation island for the wealthy, amid the distress calls of the unemployed in the United States and the likelihood that the world may experience another economic recession. A Republican presidential hopeful suggested that at a time when the U.S. is mired in a deep unemployment crisis, the President should not take such a vacation. But, a presidential spokesman countered by stressing that the Obama will continue to tackle economic problems while vacationing, and, if necessary, he will return to the White House at any time.
True, U.S. presidential records show that Obama did not set any precedent in his vacation trip. But, times and people involved are different.
What other U.S. presidents in the past could do with little or no public outrage does not necessarily justify Obama's similar behavior of today.
The American people's perception of Obama's leadership capability at present is a far cry from when he was inaugurated two years ago. The latest Gallup poll indicates that Obama's approval ratings on the economic issue have reached a new low at 26 percent while his overall public support has declined to 39 percent.
Looking back, one can clearly see that Obama's image as a competent leader was most seriously marred by the eleventh-hour compromise he reached with Republicans in Congress on raising U.S. debt ceiling. Although the agreement saved the U.S. from declaring default on its debt, his concession on raising taxes of the rich as part of the plan to slash deficits was perceived as an unwise capitulation to the Republican conservatives. Obama should have been able to whip up a nationwide support for his fairly balanced deficit-reduction plan, but he did not.
It was this kind of ineffective leadership on the part of Obama that prompted the downgrade of U.S. global credit rating by Standard & Poor's for the first time in history.
Now, every knowledgeable person can see the formidable difficulty Obama faces in resolving the persistently high unemployment rate and the staggering deficits without new tax revenues as the 2012 presidential election is looming.
While the current economic problem is so colossal that any impressive short-term solution is beyond reach, the least Obama can do to bolster his public image is to demonstrate his profound understanding of the public woes and a willingness and eagerness to work hard and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the wretched in pulling through their pathetic plight. Here, what is most important is not how much the problem is being solved but rather a perception of not being "betrayed" or "abandoned." It is for this reason that Obama should have thought twice before deciding to take the vacation.
And it is this kind of "soft" leadership marked by tender sympathy and empathy that Obama should seek to demonstrate while campaigning for reelection under the shadow of an economic slump.