Raise Your Expectations, Obama, and America Will Follow

Allen Hunt

10/13/2010 3:12:15 PM - Allen Hunt

I certainly did not expect President Obama to be strong on defense. But I did expect him at least to be inspiring. Boy, was I wrong. President Obama appears to be breaking new ground in leadership. He has developed a style all his own: leadership by low expectations. Rather than inspiration, more often he takes the approach of de-spiration. Let's pretend that is a word, meaning to drain the very spirit and aspirations out of those listening to you and those you are ostensibly seeking to lead.

Just imagine if Coach Nick Saban told his Alabama players and booster base before the season, “We are going to lose some games. But we'll bounce back and be stronger. We can absorb those losses.” Saban would soon be looking for another job. Football fans and players want to be inspired, to win championships, not be told to expect six or seven wins. Instead, Saban will tell his fan base, “We intend to win a championship. Nothing else will satisfy us. We will take each game one at a time, but make no mistake, the trophy at the end is our goal.” That inspires. And players do best when they live up to high inspirational expectations. Does a goal of being average motivate you to get up at 5:00 am in the morning to lift weights during a long, hot summer? Or give your hard-earned money to a football program? Hardly.

But that average 6-6 season appears to be Obama's benchmark for success, particularly when it comes to two key areas of American leadership right now: terrorism and economy. Obama is sucking the very aspirations out of the people. Aspirations for bold resolve in national security. And aspirations for economic recovery and prosperity.

Regarding our fight against terror, Obama told Bob Woodward several months ago, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger." Good to know that terror attacks are good for us. After all, what's a few thousand dead civilians between friends? Sure, we will try to fight, but we need to learn to accept terror. In other words…Resignation rather than resolve. Feel de-spired yet?

This week, Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed those sentiments of President Obama. At a conference on intelligence reform, Leiter shared these less than inspiring words: "We're not going to have a perfect batting average and it's important that Americans understand that...It's important that we approach this with national resilience that in fact shows that this country is not going to be defeated.. We do have to put the threat in perspective.” In other words, we are not going after a victory. Our goal is not to defeat radical Islam (if we deviate from Eric Holder and dare utter such a phrase) but merely to resign ourselves to the fact that attacks will come and we will do the best we can. Suck it up and get ready, and we’ll handle it the best we can.

Regarding economic recovery, Obama occasionally reminds us that job creation is his first priority. Meanwhile, he continues on his long-winded approach of doing anything but inspiring confidence and optimism for American consumers and businessmen. Instead, he spends his time blaming Republicans and incessantly selling and re-selling the merits of his health care reform. Meanwhile, he has theaudacity to compare his work to Lincoln’s freeing the slaves. Lincoln, a model of resolve, versus Obama, a model of resignation. De-spiration.

How's that approach working out for Obama? Not so well. Alan Greenspan told us this week what we already knew, namely, that fear and anxiety are crippling any hope of economic recovery. Leaders and decision-makers simply have no confidence in their ability to anticipate what might come from Washington or the Obama administration next. As Greenspan said, “The instinctive reaction of businessmen and householders to uncertainty is to disengage from those activities that require confident predictions of how the future will unfold.” What does that mean? When business owners lack the ability to project the future with any confidence or clarity, they do not hire.

The economic fear and anxiety continue to cascade over us by the day. The consumer confidence index hits its lowest point of the last six months, and Gallup reports that actual unemployment is more like 10.1%. Why? Because no one has any idea what government tax, mandate, or program is coming next. And when no one knows what the future might look like, they pull back and wait. And when you get one million business owners and decision-makers all pulling back and waiting at the same time, the result is stagnation, fear, and anxiety. Yet President Obama still fails to say a positive word about business or entrepreneurs or capitalism. Or even about the future. Hope has evaporated in his demeanor and language.

Again, people live up to, or down to, the expectations you have for them. When times are tough, an effective leader reassures people of their innate greatness and of the brightness of the future. See Churchill, Winston. Or King, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther.

So here is the Allen Hunt Plan for President Obama and leadership. It is obscenely simple and straightforward. It simply requires a dash of hope and a little oratorical skill, the very traits everyone lauded Obama for in the first place. Did the president make some Faustian deal with the devil whereby he would trade in his oratory and hope the moment he entered the Oval Office?

Here it is: for the next six months, begin every week with a short address telling Americans five things that are great about America and its people. Weave in a story of a great business risk-taker once in a while. Point out a bank that does good work. Pat a small business owner on the back. Every week. For six months. No more, no less.

Then watch as Americans begin to believe in themselves again. After all, that is what good leaders do. Inspire. Remind their followers of who they are and who they can be regardless of what they must face. Resolve. A good leader is more than a teacher, continually instructing his followers on what they do not know. Rather, a good leader inspires and leads more than he/she instructs. And that is precisely Obama's problem. He is an instructor who doesn’t know how to inspire. And often a long-winded, laborious, condescending instructor at that.

By extension, Obama's problem has now become America's problem. De-spiration is not a strategy. In fact, it is not even a word.