An Examination of the Leadership of Barack Obama

This post was submitted as a paper for a government class at Regent University. It has been modified for publication.

During the 2008 election cycle, it was widely believed that Hillary Clinton was the best political leader for America. However, after 17 months of hard campaigning, Senator Obama rose through the ranks to win the Democratic nomination. In October 2008, Senator Obama received endorsement from the New York Times; they believed that he could fix the ailing economy, and that he displayed a “cool head and sound judgment” that the United States desperately needed.[1] Obama ran on a platform of “hope and change.” He received a Nobel Peace prize just eight months into his first term of the presidency for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”[2] Obama began his presidency with a promise of “unprecedented level of openness in Government.”[3] One of his other promises was “transparency to government by tracking federal spending online.”[4] However, upon examination of President Barack Obama’s leadership, one may see that the ability to lead is simply absent.  President Obama has shown a lack of leadership in regards to the terrorist attack in Benghazi, the management of the nation’s finances, and the promise of the Affordable Care Act.

What is a Good Political Leader?

            In order to determine whether Barack Obama is a good political leader or not, a good political leader must be defined. According to Magstadt, “[G]reat leaders practice statecraft by combining power and wisdom—thus the title statesman.”[5] Magstadt contends that good political leaders are those who commit to public good, have extraordinary political skills, and put practical wisdom into action.[6] Leaders who have displayed such characteristics include Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Abraham Lincoln. While the policy implications for each of these leaders are a different argument, the manner in which they led their nation is what defines them as good political leaders. Each displayed two qualities that Winston Churchill described as the essential leadership qualities: courage and perseverance.

A primary authority on rhetoric and politics is Aristotle. In book I of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he contends that a good political leader should be able to “deliberate and on which political speakers make speeches are some five in number” (Book I, chapter 4). The “five in number” that Aristotle mentions are the ways and means, peace and war, national defense, trade, and legislation. In addition to these qualities, Aristotle also sets forth three means of persuasion: logos, pathos and ethos. A good rhetorician (and political leader) will make good use of each of these for the general welfare of the nation. The actions of President Obama do not reflect the qualities of a good political leader outlined by Aristotle.

Terrorist Attack in Benghazi

A major national security issue that President Obama had to deal with was a terrorist attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. During the immediate aftermath, the President and his administration downplayed the event. A false narrative about the attack was disseminated to the public; a protest in response to an inflammatory video was blamed.[7] In Congressional testimony, deputy chief Gregory Hicks testified that almost everyone at the diplomatic mission knew that it was a terrorist attack.[8] What must be understood is that Ambassador Chris Stephens, who was killed in the attack, had requested for more security at the consulate multiple times, but was consistently denied. Stevens and his security staff were deeply concerned about security in the area, especially on September 11, 2012.[9] If President Obama’s administration had an adequate understanding of the threat still posed by terrorist groups, security could have been bolstered enough to better protect the consulate. Also through Congressional testimony, it was revealed by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that President Obama was “MIA” during the Benghazi attack.[10]

A comparable situation to the Benghazi situation is the Iran-Contra scandal that plagued President Reagan. After about 3 months of criticism and investigation, he admitted that the United States had engaged in deals with terrorists, and laid the responsibility on his shoulders.[11] While he may not have been directly involved, his administration engaged in the activity, and he felt that he was still accountable. Reagan’s actions demonstrated responsibility and integrity. Until this point, President Obama has displayed no such responsibility about the attack.

Recent developments have shown that the CIA and State Departments purposefully obstruct communication with survivors of the attack.[12] This begs the question as to what is being deliberatively hidden by the executive branch. While there are certain facts that must be kept classified with national security, some of the actions taken (or not taken) by the President should be made known to the public. If there was any miscommunication or neglect, a good political leader will admit to the error and ask public forgiveness. This absence of candor has been characteristic of the Obama White House, which partially explains his diminishing approval rating.

Management of American Finances

A second issue that has caused widespread damage to America is that level of debt that has accumulated under the President Obama. Not all of the blame can be placed on the office of the president, but the executive branch does maintain a responsibility of approving a budget under the Constitution. Rather than working to reduce the federal deficit, nearly $821 billion was added to the economy in the stimulus package under President Obama in 2009.[13] In a time of severe deficit, adding a further burden to the debt does not show discretion in ways and means.

The President has also taken many lavish vacations at the expense of American taxpayers. For example, the recent family trip in the summer of 2013 to Africa reportedly cost American taxpayers between $60 and $100 million.[14]  In a time of fiscal trouble, taking an extremely expensive personal trip overseas is a sign of failure of leadership. The national debt also exceeds 100% of the GDP, meaning that the United States owes more money in debt than all of its yearly domestic product value. When interviewed by CNN Money, former Join Chief of Staff chairman Mike Mullen said that the debt is the largest threat to U.S. national security.[15] Considering that the United States already had about a $10.626 trillion deficit[16] when Obama became president, it is obvious that he and his administration have not shown discretion in terms of ways and means.

Affordable Care Act Management

            A third challenge that President Obama has encountered is the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. In 2009-2010, President Obama went on a tour to gain support for his new healthcare law. On March 23, 2010, the law was signed by the President, thus fulfilling one of his major campaign promises. However, there is a major problem with how he handled promotion of the law. He stated dozens of times that “[I]f you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”[17] Many presidents make promises they cannot keep, but there is something fundamentally different about this specific one. Somewhere buried in the plethora of regulations of the Affordable Care Act lays a statute that invalidates an insurance policy if any minute change occurs to the policy after the law goes into effect.[18] The issue is that health insurance companies change their premiums annually. It is impossible that this regulation was accidentally placed and/or overlooked; a provision that would cause such a large change would have to be known to the President.[19]

Rush Limbaugh, a popular Conservative talk show host, has gone as far to say this is “the biggest presidential lie in my lifetime.”[20] From the deception in Watergate, to Monica Lewinsky, nothing comes close to this for Limbaugh. Many of the American people seem to agree. Since January 2013, President Obama’s approval has dropped 11 points to just 41%, and down to just 37% on healthcare policy according to Pew Research Center.[21] It is not unusual for presidents to lose approval during tenure, but the reason for this loss of approval is important. The President told an outright lie to the American people about the healthcare law. According to Aristotle, a good political leader has knowledge about the legislation and constitution of his country. A law that places the government as the head of 1/6 of the economy is something that is simply incompatible with American economics and values. America, for most of its history, has primarily used a Capitalist economic system, healthcare included. Unlike Europe, a large majority of American support individual choices rather than government standards.[22]

                                                                     Conclusion

In conclusion, the handling of these three affairs demonstrates that President Obama lacks political leader skill. President Obama, and his administration, created a false narrative about the Benghazi attack, though testimony tells that witnesses knew it was terrorism immediately. The federal deficit has reached an unprecedented level of $17 trillion. The national debt exceeds the annual American GDP. The rate of federal spending will bankrupt the United States unless severe cuts are made. President Obama has also taken no major steps to reduce the debt; in fact, his lavish vacations and bailouts have dramatically increased it. Finally, the Obama administration told the American people a blatant lie by saying that no one’s health insurance would be canceled under the Affordable Care Act. A president that would tell a direct lie to the people does not display good leadership. A good political leader would not cover up details about a terrorist attack, spend a nation into bankruptcy, or directly lie to the people. These actions are degrading and have lower morale of the citizens. It is for these reasons that President Barack Obama is not a good political leader.


[1] “Barack Obama for President,” New York Times, October 23, 2008, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/opinion/24fri1.html?_r=0.

[2] “Barack H. Obama-Facts,” Nobelprize.org, November 9, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/obama-facts.html.

[3] Barack Obama, “Transparency and Open Government,” November 9, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/.

[4] “About Barack Obama,” Organizing for Action, November 12, 2013, accessed November 12, 2013,http://www.barackobama.com/about/barack-obama/.

[5] Thomas Magstadt, Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues, 10 ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2013, 307.

[6] Magstadt, Understanding Politics. 307.

[7] “Transcript: Obama Address to U.N. General Assembly,” Fox News, September 25, 2012, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/25/transcript-obama-address-to-un-general-assembly/.

[8] Sean Sullivan, “Gregory Hicks: I thought Benghazi assault ‘was a terrorist attack from the get-go’,” Washington Post, May 05, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/05/05/gregory-hicks-i-thought-benghazi-assault-was-a-terrorist-attack-from-the-get-go/.

[9] The Washington Post, “A Security Breakdown in Benghazi.” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-security-breakdown-in-benghazi/2012/11/02/a34b7dd0-250f-11e2-9313-3c7f59038d93_print.html (accessed November 2, 2013).

[10] Michael Goodwin, “Now We Know — President Obama Was MIA On Benghazi,” Fox News, February 11, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/02/11/now-know-president-obama-was-mia-on-benghazi/.

[11]Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Iran-Contra Affair,” accessed November 02, 2013, http://0-www.britannica.com.library.regent.edu/EBchecked/topic/293519/Iran-Contra-Affair.

[12] Catherine Herridge, “Justice and State Departments Blocking Access to Survivors of Benghazi Attack,” Fox News, November 2, 2013, accessed November 2, 2013, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/31/justice-and-state-departments-blocking-access-to-survivors-benghazi-attack/.

[13] “A Brief History of President Obama’s Fiscal Record,” House of Representatives Committee on the Budget, July 15, 2011, accessed November 2, 2013, http://budget.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=252305.

[14] “How Much Will Obama’s Africa Trip Cost? The White House Isn’t Exactly Sure,” Huffington Post Politics, June 21, 2013, accessed November 2, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/obama-africa-trip-cost_n_3481438.html.

[15] “Adm. Mike Mullen: Debt Is Still Biggest Threat to U.S. Security,” CNN Money, May 10, 2012, accessed November 9, 2013, http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/10/admiral-mike-mullen/.

[16] Mark Knoller, “National Debt Has Increased More under Obama Than under Bush,” CBS News, March 19, 2012, accessed November 2, 2013, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57400369-503544/national-debt-has-increased-more-under-obama-than-under-bush/.

[17] Jason Linkins, “What Obama Really Meant When He Said ‘if You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep It’,” Huffington Post, October 30, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep-it-_n_4175715.html.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Caleb Verbois, “The Federal System of Government” (lecture, Regent University, Virginia Beach, November 5, 2013).

[20] Rush Limbaugh, “The Biggest Presidential Lie in My Lifetime,” The Rush Limbaugh Show (blog), November 05, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2013/11/05/the_biggest_presidential_lie_in_my_lifetime.

[21] Ariel Edwards-Levy, “Obama Approval Rating Drops On Economy, Immigration,” Huffington Post, November 08, 2013, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/obama-approval-rating_n_4241588.html.

[22] “70% Favor Individual Choice Over Government Standards for Health Insurance,” Rasmussen Reports, October 11, 2011, accessed November 9, 2013, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/healthcare/october_2011/70_favor_individual_choice_over_government_standards_for_health_insurance.

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3 thoughts on “An Examination of the Leadership of Barack Obama

  1. Maybe the reason the news media didn’t cover it is beasuce they just don’t care if we’re shipping arms to Syria. Or maybe it’s money. There’s a lot riding on keeping our military in the Middle East. Arms manufacturers for instance have powerful lobbyists.

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