do not understand those people who criticize the President for taking
his time to get public policy right, when much of the misery that
has come to visit their lives is a result of public policy, in both
the domestic and international arenas, formulated by the previous
administration, that was founded on distorted information, tunnel
vision and hasty judgment that produced ill-conceived decisions.
fact, Vice President Dick Chaney said that with respect to the time
being taken to arrive at a policy for Afghanistan
that President Obama was “dithering.” But President George Bush’s
response to 9/11 was to trash careful deliberation and hastily to
proceed to initiate a conventional war against Iraq,
when it was not at all certain that this kind of war would lead
to the destruction of Al Queda or the capture of Osama bin Laden.
And despite Bush’s failure to achieve his policy goals, he never
rendered his decision to the kind of deliberative process Barack
Obama is using.
a former attorney, Obama’s style is the lawyerly pursuit of decision-making
with respect to Afghanistan,
initiating an open deliberative process that includes all of the
relevant voices. With patient accumulation of the evidence, he can
hear the arguments selling pros and cons on various scenarios and
then come to a conclusion that is enriched by insight, intelligence,
and hard data from it all. He has asked for a study of how some
of the scenarios would be perceived by the people of Afghanistan, not just assume, as Chaney did, that
be perceived as heroes, but including them in an assessment whether
America could achieve its
and Bush, however, have one thing in common with respect to war
in the Middle East; they pursued these projects on an unquestionable premise.
Bush had retribution for 9/11 as his goal; Obama has announced that
the war in Afghanistan
is “a war of necessity.” In both cases, the existence of an unchallengeable
premise could lead to disaster, so in Obama’s case, the truth of
the premise itself also needs to be part of the deliberations.
of the reason for taking time to deliberate is to respect the application
of resources that are important to the style of objective reasoning.
The Obama administration has sought to return to legitimizing science
and thoughtful studies of unbiased institutions, not just narrow
conservative ideology, as the source of its decision making.
while deliberation in the context of diversity is positive, it is
also frustrating because it often does not yield decisions as clear
cut as those using ideology. This is illustrated by Obama’s dance
with the Public Option in the health care policy debate, where he
first supported it to get his constituency behind the health care
fight; then he abandoned it when his aim was to attract Republicans
to his side; then he split the difference when polls showed a majority
of the American people supported it. Here, he was using not just
objective deliberation, but a strong dose of pragmatic politics.
I can hear Rahm Emanuel shouting that while it’s nice to lead from
principle, Obama must keep his eyes on the larger objective of coming
out of the health care debate with something – anything they can
face elections with in 2010 and 2012.
leadership is complicated by the fact that any president must perform
effectively in the three-legged stool of the Executive Branch, Congress
and the public to get much done. In the Congress, President Obama
can play a different game of leadership, giving the ball to the
party leaders and supporting their calls when they are consistent
with his political strategy. However, as the health care bills come
out of both the House and Senate, there is a moment when he will
have to exercise decisive leadership in the conference and then
we will see whether pragmatic politics or principle will hold sway.
leader of the Executive branch his style also permeates the agencies
under his direction and it is likely to be here that one can get
the clearest sense of his style of leadership. One of the lessons
that we must learn from the past, is that for a nation as large
as this one, with as many critical roles it has to play, leadership
style is vital to the President’s success and that of the nation.
public likes him, but is lukewarm on his handling of some issues.
Whether his deliberative style changes will depend upon the damage
conservative Democrats and Republicans are able to do to his agenda.
Board member Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership
Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center and
Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland
College Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race and Ethnicity)
(University of Michigan Press). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.