How Do You Measure Presidential Leadership?

You hear all the time that President Obama cannot lead. He doesn’t reach across the aisle. He has a poor relationship with Congress.

That seems to be a widely assumed fact throughout D.C. Many people (including myself) doubt that the President would accomplish anything more even if he was a better leader. But most people seem to assume that this president just isn’t a very good leader.

But is this true? It’s tough to be a good leader when half your followers are committed to undermining your every move. Is there anything the President could’ve done to convince Republicans to work with him? I’m doubtful, but I’m also new to politics and new to D.C. so I have trouble putting President Obama’s leadership skills in context. Did former presidents work better with Congress? Did they show more deference to the institution?

At the National Journal’s policy summit yesterday on America’s fiscal condition, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered a clue when he spoke about a dinner he had with the President:

We had supper in the family dining room – it was the first time in my 37 years that I was ever in the family dining room.

Senator Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and during all his time there throughout a number of different administrations, he had never been invited to dine in the family dining room. Based on a bit of googling, the dinner Hatch is referring seems to have taken place on April 10 of this year with a dozen different Senators.

This is one tiny little data point, but it puts things in a bit of context for me. I don’t know how to judge the President’s leadership skills. I don’t think there is a simple metric for doing so. But for those that say the President doesn’t lead, what do they think dining with a dozen Republican senators in the family dining room is? I’m sure they’ll respond that it’s one moment of leadership amidst a sea of disdain towards Congressional Republicans and that it took until Obama’s second term for him to host the dinner. But this a moment of leadership that Hatch never saw from a previous President. I don’t know if any of the other Senators had dined in the family dining room before. I’m sure at least some others had not.

Not surprisingly, the dinner didn’t seem to help the budget negotiations, but it still puts those criticisms of the President in a bit of context for me. I’d love to hear more. In the meantime though, I’m taking the “Obama can’t lead” complaint with a grain of salt.


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