With apologies to the movie “Forrest Gump,” presidents are like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.
Sometimes you get a president who exceeds expectations, and sometimes you don’t.
President Barack Obama is a “don’t.”
He got elected. Twice. That’s a skill. But he hasn’t successfully parlayed that skill into effective leadership. His communication skills fail to rise to the level of the average manager at Taco Bell.
Recent events, sadly and clearly, underline this.
In the middle of a televised build-up of brutal terrorist activity in Syria and Iraq, our president stubbornly went on his scheduled vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, where he golfed during the day and danced the night away at parties thrown by lobbyists.
Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Christians were tortured, raped and slain by ISIS thugs before being pushed into mass graves.
Only when ISIS videotaped the beheading of an American journalist did the president emerge from vacation. He quickly acknowledged the act, saying it was all he could do not to weep in public. Then, only 10 minutes later, he is in a golf cart on the links, yucking it up with an NBA celebrity.
I’ll let shrinks analyze what kind of person can go from sniffling back a tear to a horselaugh. The cause for concern is this president’s ineffective basic communication skills.
He’s such a megalomaniac that he thinks he’s gifted enough to manage from afar fast-breaking world events — Ukraine, Syria, Gaza, etc. Responding to criticism for this, his people explain this very special president doesn’t have to come to work every day and sit at his desk at the White House, because he’s so adept at modern forms of communication — email, texts, video conferencing, etc.
“The office” is wherever he is — be it in Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, a fundraiser, golfing or doing “The Tonight Show.”
That’s a rookie conceit, as any Taco Bell manager would tell you. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication. There is no better way to make a fast decision during a crisis than when the boss is in the room and 100 percent engaged.
Why do you think football coaches don’t take holidays during the season? They don’t watch their games on TV and then video conference their thoughts to the players at halftime. They don’t text plays from the golf course to the sidelines. They show up.
Imagine if President Obama had showed up for ISIS and Benghazi?
While President Obama kicked back on vacation, his people in Washington breathlessly revealed how dangerous ISIS had become. Previously, the president had dismissed ISIS as the “jayvee” team.
It created a horribly mixed message. It scared American citizens.
Had the president been at work behind his desk, instead of squeezing ISIS beheadings between rounds of golf, perhaps there would not have been this unnerving disconnect.
And history will never forget the night of Benghazi two years ago. President Obama did not even show up at the situation room during the time that our ambassador in Libya was under attack. A new book out last week says a small force of heavily armed CIA fighters were ready and willing to save the ambassador, but were told by the CIA to stand down. Team Obama disavows that. But I’ll believe the guys on the ground before I believe the politicians in Washington.
The overarching point is that the president wasn’t even in the room. He slept through it, presumably, waking up early the next morning to fly Air Force One to Las Vegas for a meaningless political rah-rah event.
That’s this president in a nutshell. He’s a full-of-himself part-timer, never fully engaged.
Unless President Obama starts showing up for work every day and meeting face-to-face in the same room with his team for some real communication and decision making — no texts, no video conferencing, no vacations, no golf, no fundraisers — he’ll repeat the error. But, hey, it’s just management theory. NFL coaches do it. Taco Bell managers do it.
Try it, Mr. President.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.