A candidate for President campaigns on the issues that exist at the time, under the circumstances and conditions as they are at that moment. Unfortunately, those issues and conditions are not static, linear, and predictable. They shift and change in a seemingly random and illogical fashion, and often morph into something entirely different than anyone saw coming.

Once in office, the President is often consumed with matters and concerns utterly beyond his conception while running for office. These matters are thrust upon him, whether he’s ready, equipped, prepared or not. It’s not unlike being hired for a specific high-level job—say, financial analyst—at a Fortune 500 company, only to be told after five months that you’re now responsible for repairs and maintenance on the facility’s environmental control system, in addition to your responsibilities as financial analyst.

Hardly seems fair.

Creative individuals with outstanding critical thinking skills, unshackled initiative, and relatively few self-imposed egotistical/ideological limitations will seek out the resources/personnel suitably equipped to meet the demands of the new, unforeseen challenge, and meet those requirements.

What president served a full four-year term (or two) without encountering such unforeseen circumstances? Virtually none. How they react to these challenges reveals much about their management style, their ability to get things accomplished, and their ability to operate beyond their “comfort zone”—in fact, it reveals everything about that indefinable quality that sets great presidents apart from the ordinary: it reveals their character.

President Carter entered office in January 1977 in a period of reasonable calm. The 1973 oil crisis was an unpleasant memory, but it was in the rear-view mirror. Our involvement in Vietnam had ended in 1975—not honorably, perhaps, but it was over and not Carter’s concern.

Then in 1979, Carter ran into all kinds of problems not of his making. Iran was taken over by militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and internal strife severely curtailed Iranian oil production and exports. A world-wide oil panic ensued, prices skyrocketed, and gas lines in the US were once again the order of the day.

To compound Carter’s problems, Iranian militants took 52 Americans hostage in November of 1979. This was Carter’s “Facility Manager” moment: He was hired in November 1976 to restore some semblance of normalcy and dignity to the Office of President in the wake of President Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. We were at relative peace. There were reasonably limited domestic and international complications in 1976. His task seemed as achievable as picking low-hanging fruit.

Now he had dual responsibilities, totally unpredictable and unforeseen during the campaign:

1. He had to restore vigor, investor/consumer confidence, and growth to our oil-shocked economy, and find solutions for the never before or since triple-headed “stagflation” monster (high unemployment, high interest rates and high inflation), and
2. He had to inspire the country to rally behind the hostages, portray America as steadfast, powerfully intimidating, and unyielding to the Iranians (and the rest of the world), while behind the scenes devise either a successful diplomatic or military solution to the hostage crisis.

He was woefully inadequate to the demands of the job. He had no economic answers, and he’d let the military wither on the vine during his time in office so badly that when he did launch the ill-fated April 1980 rescue attempt popularly called “Desert One” (but officially called Operation Eagle Claw), neither the equipment nor the training of the personnel were fully up to the task. The mission ended in the Iranian desert when two American aircraft collided and eight US servicemen died. No actual rescue attempt was even able to be made.

It was the nadir of our post-WWII American national experience. It crystallized the public perception of President Carter’s incompetence. No one doubted Carter’s innate intelligence; but in the public’s mind, his ability to successfully deal with the unexpected was shattered forever.

The parallels to the current economic crisis and the 1979 Hostage crisis are almost too obvious to list. As in 1979, the American public wakes up every day thinking about this problem. It defines the President. How’s the economy today? What will the job number be this coming first Friday of the month? What are the weekly unemployment claims? Has my friend Bob found a job? Have I found a job? When will this unreal national nightmare come to an end?

President Obama has made an unfortunate habit of shifting the blame of his ineffectiveness onto others and making excuses:

“We inherited a mess.”
“We had avoided a recession but then we ran into a lot of bad luck like the tsunami in Japan, the Arab Spring and the European Debt Crisis.”
“When I said, ‘Change you can believe in,’ I didn’t mean change next week.”

The dire economic situation that President Reagan “inherited” from Jimmy Carter was arguably as bad—if not worse—than the challenges that faced President Obama in fall ‘08. Unemployment peaked at 10.8% early in Reagan’s first term—higher than the high of 10.2% under Obama. Interest rates for home mortgages and auto loans were an incomprehensible 20%+. Interest rates are near 0% and have been for many years under Obama. Energy-driven inflation was out of control in 1980. Those were vexing, contradictory problems the likes of which Obama does not have to deal with.

Yet, President Reagan didn’t complain, he didn’t ‘blame’ Carter, he didn’t moan about “bad luck.” He simply surrounded himself with strong, capable advisors—not sycophantic ideologues—and tackled the problems. Business and consumer confidence returned amid tangible positive results, and within two years of his first term—far less time than it has taken Obama, with no turnaround in sight—the economy was thriving again.

He showed initiative, creativity, and a willingness to move out of his ideological comfort zone. He showed character.

No two situations are the same, and the economic and world situation in 1980 was different than it is today. Perhaps as Obama’s supporters are quick to point out, it has taken us a long time to get in this mess and it will take a commensurately long time to get us out. Or, more simplistically, perhaps it was “all George Bush’s fault.”

Either way, it’s immaterial. It’s President Obama’s responsibility to deal with the situation he received, and the manner in which he goes about that conveys as much confidence or uncertainty to the public as his polices do themselves. He has lurched around from economic band-aid to band-aid without an overlying strategy. Businesses have been frozen into expansion/hiring inaction (sitting on billions of profit dollars) by a fear of what random, punitive anti-industry regulations and taxes are coming next from this confused, unpredictable Administration. Obama is just too philosophically-limited to think in any terms other than class warfare, tax the rich, and “social justice.” He is a man of and from Government intervention and that is his world, his reality.

To Obama, “fixing” the economy means simply more Government control and Government programs. He hasn’t shown any real interest in or understanding of how a truly free-market capitalistic economy works. He gives the impression that he dislikes businesspeople and mistrusts their motives.

President Obama never anticipated the economy would be this bad for this long. When the serious troubles began in fall 2008, he felt that once he was in office, he could throw some Government money at it—the Stimulus—and it would take care of itself, leaving him free to pursue his real agenda of imposing structural social change on America.

But the entrepreneurial-oriented U.S. economy has proven stubbornly resistant to Government tinkering, as any look at our history would have demonstrated—and proven—to him. His most influential advisers are either like-minded social-change ideologues, or weak political allies seemingly more interested in retaining their cushy Federally-paid positions than effecting real change and improvement.

With our struggling economy, Obama has run into his own Iranian Hostage situation, waiting unseen around the bend, and he is philosophically/egotistically incapable of even acknowledging the needed solutions, much less putting them into place.

Comments