Obama’s Leadership Deficit: Twitting While America Burns

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Rev. John Whitehead

By John W. Whitehead

“We are still fighting two increasingly trying wars overseas, witnessing terrifying new levels of creativity from would-be terrorists (underwear bombs, etc.), mopping up a greasy mess in the Gulf of Mexico and trying to right an economy that seems insistent on remaining off the rails. And the so-called leader of the free world thinks the best use of his time is to yuk it up with Whoopi Goldberg.”—S.E. Cupp, New York Daily News (July 28, 2010)

America is in dire straits.

Unemployment stands at 9.5% (and a staggering 34.5% for young black men), with more than 15 million Americans out of work, and 6.3 million of them having been unemployed for six months or longer. More than 11 million mortgages are now underwater. In fact, July 2010 marked the 17th consecutive month in which more than 300,000 American homes were undergoing foreclosure.

The number of people receiving food stamps has reached an all-time high, with assistance being doled out to more than 40 million Americans. This translates to one in eight Americans and one out of every four children. However, with more than 20,000 people a day being added to the roster, that number is projected to rise to 43.3 million in 2011.

For the first time in close to three decades, the government will have to pay out more in Social Security than it pulls in. According to the Washington Post, by 2037, Social Security reserves will have been drained and the income flowing into the program will only be enough to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits—troubling news for the 66% of senior citizens who rely on the payouts as their main source of income.

Our public debt is in excess of $13 trillion and continues to grow at a rate of about $3.83 billion each day. According to the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. debt could rise to 87% of the GDP by 2020—that’s just ten short years away.

While the fiscal cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to skyrocket, the human cost is also growing exponentially. More than 5,600 American servicemen and women have died so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. That does not include the rising numbers of military personnel who have committed or attempted to commit suicide at a rate exceeding that of the national standard. (By late November 2009, more U.S. military lives had been lost to suicide than were killed in the Afghan war.) If you take into account injuries such as hearing loss and diseases including mental illness, the number of American casualties tops more than 500,000. As these wars stretch on, reports indicate that the use of antidepressants and painkillers by soldiers has tripled in the past five years, with roughly 106,000 soldiers on some form of depression, anxiety or pain medication.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the massive problems facing our nation right now. And what is our commander in chief doing about these crises? He’s busy making the rounds of various television talk shows, including The View, playing basketball with celebrity athletes and politicians alike, and generally enjoying the lavish lifestyle, perks and acclaim that go along with being the nation’s first black president—and all of this is costing us, the taxpayers, millions upon millions of dollars.

As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports, “While President Obama’s wife and younger daughter were conducting international relations in Majorca on Sunday with Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the commander in chief was at home hosting a fantasy camp for himself. He and his buddies had a birthday weekend barbecue and basketball game with LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Magic Johnson and other legends of the sport. The day before, it was a four-hour golf outing for Obama and the boys. On Monday, he hosted the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at the White House and talked about his own exploits on the gridiron last year with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.”

In total, according to “unofficial presidential statistician Mark Knoller of CBS News, Obama has left the White House to play basketball 16 times so far, in addition to the countless times he has played on his home court. He’s shot 44 rounds of golf, gone fishing and played tennis. Total sporting-related events hosted at the White House: 45. That’s about six times the number of news conferences he has held. He’s been to see the Nationals twice this year, the last time in June with Malia and Sasha to see the Nats play Obama’s White Sox. Last week, he took Sasha to see the Washington Mystics of the WNBA at Verizon Center.”

With the country suffering in the throes of a massive recession, with unemployment high, the populace struggling to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table, and our military spread thin, why in the world is Obama jet-setting around and indulging in lavish parties and vacations? Shouldn’t he roll up his sleeves and get to work? Doesn’t he recognize that there’s a lot to be done to get this country back on the road to recovery? Doesn’t he understand that the solutions won’t be found on the basketball court or among the Beltway elite?

Unfortunately, the problem, as foreign affairs analyst Nile Gardiner recently observed, is that the Obama presidency “increasingly resembles a modern-day Ancien Régime: extravagant, decaying and out of touch with ordinary Americans. The First Lady’s ill-conceived trip to Spain at a time of widespread economic hardship was symbolic of a White House that barely gives a second thought to public opinion on many issues, and frequently projects a distinctly elitist image.”

More than anything else right now, what this country needs is leadership, backbone and vision. What we don’t need is another politician leading a life of entitlement at taxpayer expense. We need a president who is “of the people, by the people and for the people” enough to understand that his priority must be getting Americans back to work. Labor experts estimate that we need roughly100,000 new jobs a month just to offset the staggering unemployment numbers. That’s a lot of new jobs, and the only way we’re going to pull that off is for the president to make job creation his first priority.

Thus, it’s time for the president to stay at his desk, get to work and show the American people that he understands the gravity of the situation at hand. He can start by cancelling the lavish parties and political fundraisers (he’s already done more fundraisers for his own political party than any president before him). Suspend all trips not absolutely necessary for jumpstarting the economy. Put a moratorium on presidential vacations (there’s enough time for that when he’s out of office)—or if the First Family must vacation, relax at Camp David. In an effort to show that he cares, the president (already a millionaire) could donate his salary to a homeless shelter or another needy organization.

The bottom line is this: Obama needs to exert some leadership. It’s time to stop twitting and get to work. This country is desperately in need of change we can believe in, and a good place to start is with the way the president does business.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His book The Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks) is now available in bookstores and online. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org


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