After the recent revelation that the National Security Agency monitored cell phone conversations in foreign countries, including the cell phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders, the excuse of President Obama’s spokesmen and most ardent defenders was that he didn’t know the NSA was conducting such controversial surveillance.
Two thoughts immediately come to mind. Neither favor Obama’s leadership style.
First, it is incredibly ironic, given then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign speech in Germany, which was labeled a revival of American foreign policy by the media. Without any idea of what security steps may be required to protect Western Civilization from terrorism, Obama wistfully promised [t]rue partnership and true progress” predicated on “allies who will listen… and, most of all, trust each other.”
It is shameful the media fails to circle back and challenge the naiveté that characterized Obama’s campaign speech (not to mention so many other 2008 campaign speeches).
The second point is not so straightforward, but nonetheless incredibly critical. In late 2010, liberal publications such as Newsweek and Vanity Fair began asking if the presidency was too big for one man. Conservatives bemoaned the fact that media formerly fairly friendly to Obama suddenly decided the presidency was too big once he was more or less unsuccessful in improving the economy, cutting the budget deficit, ending international terrorism or so many of the other many lofty goals he set for himself during the 2008 election.
To borrow a phrase from our President’s playbook, this reveals a “teachable moment,” upon which conservatives should pounce.
Either President Obama knew about the NSA’s monitoring program or he did not. One possibility is that he knew and realized it was necessary for national security, decided to keep it, and was not honest with the American people or our nation’s allies. If that’s the case, Obama’s present dishonesty and past naiveté should definitely be questioned. At the very least, it makes his words from his 2008 visit to Berlin — including “Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other…” — ring hollow.
For the sake of argument, however, perhaps President Obama did not know about the program — or chose to ignore its scope. This may be a more likely scenario as there are so many things a president must manage at any given moment, but it also exemplifies the root of the problem.
This problem is that the executive branch has grown as the federal government takes on more and more responsibility.
As noted by Vanity Fair, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had six people titled with some variation of “assistant to the President.” President Harry Truman had twelve such advisors. President Obama has more than a hundred assistants with this status.
Has Obama simply put these people in charge of America while he goes golfing? Is this why he feels he can say that “we did not know how big the problem was” when it comes to his failed stimulus spending? Is that why he was reportedly unaware of the mismanagement of diplomatic security leading up to the Benghazi disaster? Maybe this is why the IRS became what appears to be a uncontrollable, runaway political weapon under his watch. It now makes more sense how a simple website, which is supposed to be the conduit to his signature health care overhaul, devolved into the late-night TV show punch-line it now is.
The point is simple: the same people that push government as the solver of society’s problems cannot then imply that the task is too big when government fails to solve those problems. Conversely, those of us who argue that government is too big should be vindicated by these recent events.
If President Barack Obama is as great and smart as his supporters say he is, and even he is caught off-guard when actions within his own administration are unknown to him, is that not a clear sign that he is taking on too much?