Less than a week after his highly forgettable State of the Union address, President Obama faces a crisis in the middle east to add to the two biggest domestic crises he faced when he gave the speech: the federal deficit and the fiscal implosion occurring within a large number of U.S. states.
As you recall, he gave virtually no attention to these two domestic issues, and only gave a head-nod to Tunisia and the middle east, preferring instead to inspire us with talk of a Sputnik moment - a time in our history when we as a great nation find the resolve to guarantee that every household has an electric car to use when going to and from the train stations that are coming to our neighborhoods.
The Sputnik moment of the speech has been roundly criticized for its small ambition, given the larger issues we face – and rightly so. The President seemed cynical or oblivious or too political in his avoidance of some obvious elephants in the room.
But his speech also signified something else that hits deeper: he is not leading. The speech was a complete abdication of presidential responsibility for huge issues on which a nation needs strong leadership. It's not an exaggeration to say we face a crisis of leadership in America right now.
This raises an important question for Republicans. As we look forward to 2012, who is best equipped to take on these big, complicated issues? We cannot suffer unserious candidates at this point. We need a real leader to emerge in the presidential field, and we need a higher standard of congressional leadership than we’ve gotten used to in recent years. Take the 3 big issues I mentioned earlier:
Deficit: Everyone’s talking about it, and we’re finally hearing the word “entitlements” on daytime cable news unlike ever before. But everyone knows a solution is highly complex, both politically and in terms of finding the right policy. This is why most elected leaders stop far short of talking through what they propose to do on this front. We’re not talking about clear-cut, straightforward policy changes such as a cut in marginal tax rates, or greater accountability in schools, or privatizing some federal agency. We’re talking about radical reforms to a broken program that will require multiple policy changes (raising ages, changing benefits formulas, means-testing, etc.) that combine some level of uncertainty about how they'll play out over time with fierce political resistance. Only a savvy leader can navigate the nation through what will undoubtedly be stormy waters.
States: Some may think that the issue of states’ finances isn’t at the level of a crisis, but it is. Many statehouses are just as unserious about their dilemmas as the Obama administration and some Republicans are about the deficit. Profligate states are hoping for a federal bailout of some kind. Again, this is a very complicated issue where the merits of various responses (bailout, making bankruptcy legal, or prohibiting federal aid) are still being debated, with no common party-line view emerging yet. It is in the national interest to have states’ economies flourishing, so national leaders are going to need to be clear about where they stand on this issue. The challenge coming from the states will only grow bigger as we head to 2012.
Middle East. As all elected officials in Washington are trained to say, we are still “monitoring” this “fluid” situation. Suffice it to say, though, that America’s relationship with Egypt - and the region as a result - going forward is complicated. Bush’s freedom agenda looks smarter all the time, and we need leaders who can deliver a strong message on what kinds of standards the U.S. will have in its relationship with whomever Egypt’s leader turns out to be. The Obama team recites talking points with very little conviction. We need a leader that makes the enemies of freedom in the middle east say “uh-oh.” This means we need a leader who conveys, with conviction so no doubts are left, that America sees its interests and the protection of democratic rights in other countries as interwoven, as Will Inboden notes here at ConservativeHome today.
Think to yourself: who among the current field of potential GOP 2012 presidential candidates do I trust most to handle these three issues? The best candidate to take on these large challenges will be suited for just about any other issue that comes his or her way.
Here at ConservativeHome over the next week, we are going to pay special attention to this question. We'll focus on the kind of leader we need and don’t need during these historic times.
Obama's State of the Union was a profound verdict on the unseriousness of our President. Republicans need to counter with the opposite: a leader fit to handle our real Sputnik moment - overcoming the certain and worsening downward trajectory of our economic and global strength through choices of our own making.