Has anyone noticed how rapidly Obama is aging? It was the same with George Bush and Bill Clinton before him. Perhaps it is the weight of the office. However, it is not obvious to us that the aging has been due to any major decisions that have had to be made - unless no decision is a decision. First, the president sat idly by and let Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed dictate his agenda. He let the democratic leadership initiate and write all the major pieces of legislation while sitting on the sidelines. Then after the legislation was crafted, he adopted them as his own and gave endless speeches upon speeches. He did this for health care, cap and trade and financial reform never taking the leadership on any. He did the same when the Bush tax cuts were expiring choosing to let the Republicans take the initiative and then crafting a compromise that could get past enough democrats for passage. Now that the Republicans control the House, he is again sitting on the sidelines. Here is the first major opportunity lost for this year. The debt commission co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson gave the president cover. Yet instead of bringing a fiscal 2012 budget to the congress that incorporated the recommendations of the commission the president's budget maintains the unacceptable status quo. Why doesn't the president or the president's advisors recognize that instead of giving lip service about moving to the center, the president would have enhanced his re-election chances if he introduced a budget that showed an indication to deal with federal spending and the deficit? He could have said, I do this with reluctance but as I have said "federal spending is on an unsustainable path so I have adopted the commissions recommendations". The second opportunity lost was to embrace the GAO's report on government duplication. This is really puzzling since the president had given a speech the month before on government waste and duplication citing the number of agencies involved in the regulation of salmon. One agency dealt with them in salt water. Another agency dealt with them in fresh water and several others were also in the food chain. This was the chance to say that the GAO gave credence to a recommendation to cut $200 billion in spending by eliminating overlaps. This would shift the focus from the president to others and lessen the pushback by special interests but again an opportunity lost. The third opportunity lost is with the embarrassing lack of leadership in the middle east. The state department and the White House have uttered conflicting statements, retrenched, put their fingers in the wind to see what their statements should be that day. Instead of having a well thought out plan, they have seemed like rank amateurs. The fourth opportunity lost has been in not responding to the run up in gas prices due to the middle east. The president could have come out and said "we will lessen our dependence on foreign oil." Yes the president is a greenie weenie choosing to focus on "renewable" energy sources - whatever that means. But those sources are all much more expensive than fossil fuels. It seems that the president wants gas prices to go up to the point where other energy sources become competitive. This is ass-backwards. Rather he should adopt a strategy of all in: alternative fuels yes but also full exploitation of American oil, gas and nuclear. As modest proposal would be to have the vast majority of our electricity from coal and nuclear freeing up oil for transportation. Instead we are poorly led and the president is poorly advised. If he is being advised differently and chooses another course then that is another matter. However, given the statements from those in the administration, it seems to me another repeat of the amateur hour we saw with Jimmy Carter.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com