Leading From Behind: Signature of the Obama Presidency

by Peter Kirsanow

On the homepage, Charles Krauthammer discusses President Obama’s “leading from behind” foreign policy — the description of which was provided to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza by one of Obama’s own advisers.

“Leading from behind” is indeed an apt description of Obama’s approach to foreign policy, as evidenced by the administration’s response to the uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Syria, and in 2009 Iran. But the phrase is applicable to much of Obama’s domestic policy as well.

At the very outset of his presidency, Obama delegated complete authority for fashioning the $800 billion stimulus to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. He outsourced his singular achievement, Obamacare, to anonymous Democratic congressional staffers, his primary contribution being a series of factually misleading speeches (suggesting he had absolutely no idea what was in the legislation) to shepherd the bill along. After years of demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, he was dragged into signing off on their extension. Bewildered members of his own party, most prominently Sen. Joe Manchin, pronounced the president missing-in-action during the recent budget debate. And Obama had to be dragged into the current budget debate by Paul Ryan.

On the big issues of the day — whether foreign or domestic – Obama can be counted on to vote “present,” and to do so days, if not weeks, after the matter has reached critical mass. In addition, on the few matters on which the president has shown some initiative, such as the promise to close Guantanamo or try Khalid Sheik Muhammad in New York, he often abandons his position and scurries back to the safe confines of evil Bush policies.

The Leader of the Free World has become a follower with a teleprompter, a pundit with a bully pulpit. He seems largely content to bob along in the stream of history, lacking confidence in America’s continued greatness and declining to project it.

It’s been said that each president can be identified by a short phrase: Lincoln freed the slaves; Reagan won the Cold War. “Leading from behind” may not end up being Obama’s phrase, but thus far, there are few better.

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