O'CONNELL: Obama's celebrity accentuates his lack of leadership

What we have is a celebrity president; what we need is a leader. Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsilvas

LOS ANGELES, August 9, 2013 — President Obama’s Tuesday appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno produced the show’s best ratings this year. It provided a welcome friendly audience for Obama, but did America learn anything useful? Was this a useful venue for explaining policy, or was it just entertainment?

The late-night audience applause and cheers, the motorcades, and the fawning local coverage certainly reflect Obama’s star power. But popularity contests and running the country are two entirely different animals. Obama’s comments about his foreign policy decisions were more of the smoke and mirrors that this administration loves to conjure. With no hard questions or followup, the illusions solidified in the minds of the uninformed as fact.


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The forum of a late-night talk show is not the place to get substantive answers from Obama. Foreign policy is serious business, and America continues to face very serious threats. The attack on our Benghazi consulate and the Boston Marathon bombing should leave no doubt about this. Whether the threat last week was real or imagined, the evacuation of diplomatic personel from across the Arab world put a punctuation point on the threat.

With that background, discussions and questions about our country’s security and future are serious, and they deserve serious treatment, not mugging for the cameras. For the sake of the nation, the president should remember that celebrity and governance are mutually exclusive. The city of Los Angeles is proof of this. After eight years of a celebrity mayor who knew how to work the camera and the low-information voters but knew nothing of actually making the city work, Los Angeles was left with broken infrastructure, loss of business, and shrinking revenues. Take it from the micro to the macro, and we see the direction our country is headed.

While watching the show, the first impression was how grave, serious, and haggard Obama looked, despite the lightheartedness of the atmosphere. Perhaps it was jet lag, perhaps it was a sign that he is collapsing under the weight of his own ineffectualness.

In response to Leno’s question about the closing of 21 embassies last week, Obama acknowledged that, “Radical, violent extremism is still out there.” Could it be that after spending all of 2012 claiming that al Qaeda was decimated, he was finally coming to the realization that this only inflamed tensions rather than quelling them? Hardly. He went on to give rambling thanks to the diplomats who risk their lives and said, “We do everything we can to protect them.” That he had the audacity to utter such words in the shadow of Benghazi is stunning. The deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others made the world aware of how much was not done to protect embassies.


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Leno moved on to the NSA spying program and asked whether the intelligence information gathered had spurred the current embassy closings. Obama deflected, invoking the Boston Marathon Bombing as an example of why this program is essential to keeping the country safe.

This was another head fake. It was the administration’s failure to pay attention to their own intelligence, and other countries’ intelligence, that allowed the Tsarnaev brothers to do their wicked work. Apparently doing the actual job of uncovering true dangers is much less sexy than combing through average American’s phone and e-mail records.

Leno would have been remiss had he not asked the president about Russia’s grant of asylum to Edward Snowden. Obama said he was “disappointed”, then went on to talk about Vladimir Putin falling back on his “Cold War mentality.” The first thing that came to mind was: The man is ex-KGB—do you seriously expect him not to?

The president delights in waxing wise about diplomacy and talking to those who disagree with us. But after five years, his platitudes have failed in their real-time implementation. We need look no further than North Korea, Iran, and now Russia. Part of presidential leadership is knowing the leader with whom you are dealing, the ground you stand on, and drawing and defending boundaries that will protect America’s interests. Obama’s refusal to see that Putin’s mentality and tactics will not be changed by talks and mutual understanding is delusional and dangerous.

The president’s worst lies and deflections concerned the home front: the flailing economy and lack of jobs that continues to be spun as a recovery. Obama claimed the economy, “is my number one priority.” Where have we heard that before? Too many times, over the last four years. The president has made speech after speech about “pivoting” to focus on jobs and the economy. Somehow Obamacare, gun control, and now immigration reform have bumped jobs and the economy from the number one spot, despite the supposed “laser focus” of this administration.

In his response to Leno, Obama blamed globalization, robots, and, of course, the last administration for plight of the middle class. After five years, it would be refreshing to hear him acknowledge that his policies are what is stifling businesses and job growth. Forty-seven percent of Americans are working part-time. That is half of America. This, and a GDP of 1.17 percent is not a sign of economic growth or recovery, but stagnation and inertia.

Where has Obama excelled? He knows how to skillfully use media to impact audiences. Conservatives and Republicans could learn well from this. Ken Walsh of US News breaks it down: “Obama advisers say he is going where the voters are. They argue that the nation’s media scene is so fractured that a president needs to expand his media horizons in order to reach as many Americans as possible.”

Obama mostly ignores the White House press corps and chooses only a handful of “serious” interview shows to make his case. He is not interested in reaching as many Americans as possible, but the ones that love him no matter what he does. He has no tolerance for anyone who wants to dig more deeply into his language or his motives. That would involve being accountable, and accountability does not appear to be in this president’s wheelhouse.


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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for Examiner.com, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (http://asthegirlturns.com).

Contact Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

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