Playing the crisis card won’t work forever for President Barack Obama. At some point, the people will expect their leader to lead.
And the president hasn’t yet demonstrated the will to do so. Instead, he answers monumental moments such as the upcoming sequestration deadline with brinksmanship and blame-gaming.
For now, the approach is working. A Pew/USA Today poll last week found decisively more voters blame congressional Republicans for the failures of Washington than fault the president. No shock, since a derelict media is still faithfully carrying the White House’s message that the GOP is the obstacle.
But the same survey indicates a growing weariness with these serial crises, and a strong desire for Congress and the president to resolve the debt and deficit.
For that to happen, Obama must decide that fixing the economy is a higher priority than destroying the Republican Party.
Last week, the president again played Henny Penny, warning Americans that the sky will fall if Republicans don’t derail the automatic spending cuts Obama himself demanded to break an earlier stand-off. If the cuts kick in, the president claims, the poor will go hungry, thousands will be thrown out of work, the country will be left more vulnerable to attack.
Those are the pronouncements of a campaigner, not a leader. A leader would have reassured the American people the economy won’t collapse if Washington is forced to cut a meager 3 percent from discretionary spending, and empathized that for most households, such belt-tightening is routine. A corporate CEO would be laughed onto the street if he made the claim Obama did that in a $3.6 trillion budget, he can’t find $85 billion in savings. Squeezing budgets is a basic job skill in private sector C-suites.
Instead of threatening to fire first responders and defense workers, a leader would have offered, say, to chop the $24 billion in ineffective green energy subsidies. Or he might have set aside the $50 billion in new spending contained in his State of the Union address.
A leader would have dusted off the two-year-old General Accounting Office report that identified $100 billion in duplicative and wasteful spending and sat down with the GOP to find the sequester savings there.
But Obama is not a leader, and his goal is not to resolve the crisis; it’s to exploit it. If he can maneuver Republicans into a position where they either have to accept the blame for whatever consequences the spending cuts bring or cave in to yet another tax hike, the harm done to the economy is a fair trade-off.
The ploy will likely work once again, since Republicans seem more interested in keeping their seats than standing for their principles.
But a leader can’t shirk leadership forever. The buck still stops on the president’s desk. Ultimately, Americans will hold President Obama accountable for the damage done on his watch.
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Nolan Finley is an opinion columnist with the Detroit News.