I am disappointed with the current political wrangling over the economic stimulus package. It seems that the whole world wants change - except for Washington politicians. President Obama is off to a very rocky start because he has failed to stand up to his own party members behind closed doors. In addition, he has failed to use his communications gift with the surgical skill the hour requires.
President Obama’s speeches and press releases will be the essence of future case studies in MBA and MPA programs all around the world. History will tell us that some of them fell short of his usual brilliance. Last Thursday’s speech at the Democratic retreat in Williamsburg will be a classic example of the misuse or abuse of his powerful verbal skills.
Nervous about the worsening economy and the need to get things rolling, President Obama’s advisors thought that they could kill two birds with one stone by simplifying a very necessary communications process. Coalition building is a very delicate art. It is not a science that can be reduced to a timetable approach.
Cocky from their recent victory, Obama strategists minimized the time and energy needed to turn the corner at this time. They are still acting in the campaign modality. In their minds, the process would be easy. First arrive at a solution, next get Capitol Hill buy–in, and finally get the ball rolling.
Life in DC has never been that simple. Just ask George Bush about the Faith Based Initiative or Hillary Clinton about healthcare. Obama’s first problem was that a partisan group of Democrats wrote down their best shot at developing a plan. They forgot that three major groups will determine whether we beat this recession quickly – the nation’s current management elite, Washington politicians and staffers, and the voting public. Each group has unique concerns. Each can accelerate or delay our national recovery, and not one of them can act in a vacuum.
The sin of Thursday’s message was not simply that the administration sought to speak to two audiences at once (legislators and voters). The oversight of not speaking to the barons of business was a huge mistake. Highly paid presidential advisors have forgotten that the 500,000+ jobs lost during the two last months have come as the result of widespread management decisions. They were not inevitable. These losses were incurred because managers, from a wide range of industries, perceived that we are entering into an unusually hostile environment for business leaders.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.