Why Is The Obama Administration Failing?

BLOG VIEW: There is a famous quote from Gen. John J. Pershing that says, ‘A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary, an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.’ That quote seems unusually pithy today.

Last Monday, President Obama held a televised town-hall-style meeting where he was repeatedly questioned by people who professed to being dazzled by the eloquence and hope that was offered in his 2008 campaign but who have since grown disappointed by his handling of economic issues and the overall state of the nation. His answers failed to assure his audience that things are getting better. If anything, there was a perception that he was out of touch with the state of the nation.

Indeed, this televised event was the latest in a skein of harsh public grumbling regarding a White House that doesn't seem to be doing its job correctly. Obama's approval ratings are dismal because the public is baffled and angry at his handling of a wide number of issues – promises made on the campaign trail two years ago have either been unfulfilled or handled with incompetence. For our purposes, it is easy to share in the confusion and consternation of how the administration is mishandling the federal response to the housing finance market.

Two weeks ago, frustration over the administration's lethargic response to the state of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) boiled over during a session of the House Financial Services Committee when several congressmen stated that the administration has made absolutely no progress on the issue. Rep. Spencer Bacchus, R-Ala., confronted the administration's representative to the session – Michael Barr, assistant secretary of the Department of the Treasury – on the GSE issue by blunting stating, ‘You've done nothing.’

For those who recall the creation of the Dodd-Frank Act, the administration successfully maneuvered to have GSE reform language excised from the 2,300-page legislation. No official White House game plan on the GSEs is due until January – not far from the second anniversary of the Obama inauguration.

And then there's the issue of Elizabeth Warren. Whether or not you agreed with the initiative, the White House was successful in pressuring Capitol Hill to create the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But who is in charge of this new bureau? Technically, no one is in charge. Rather than stand up for Warren as the logical choice to run the bureau – it was her idea, after all – the White House gave her a vague special advisory position that empowers her to set up the new entity without actually being the person in charge of running it. This odd setup is a result of the administration's fear that it could not get Warren confirmed by the Senate – rather than fight the good fight, the administration did an end run that made it look weak and left the new bureau without a director for the foreseeable future.

The Warren non-appointment follows a disturbing pattern created by the administration: a bureaucracy where no one is officially in charge of highly important agencies. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has been without a head since August, while the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has been without a director since August 2009. The administration put forward three nominees for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in April, but it has lacked the muscle to get the Senate to begin the confirmation process – and, yes, the president's party has numerical control of the Senate!

And going back to issues that were raised a few weeks ago in this column, there are two housing finance issues that make the administration seem to be astonishingly at odds with itself: a public advocacy of renewable energy coupled against a cold silence that allows the FHFA to demolish Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, and the claim of supporting the basic rights of gay and lesbian Americans while refusing to support any effort to expand the Fair Housing Act to incorporate this disenfranchised demographic. Needless to say, is it any wonder that people are scratching their heads over the administration's actions?

As a candidate, Obama was an eloquent and inspirational force that provided a clear vision for the future. As a president, he has been an elusive and aloof presence that consistently runs away from tough fights and speaks out of both sides of his mouth. It is not surprising that people who happily and eagerly supported him in 2008 are openly asking the president what went wrong between then and now.

Harry S. Truman once commented, ‘Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.’ Perhaps someone should hang a sign in Washington that reads, ‘Wanted: Courageous, skillful leaders’?

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

(Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@sme-online.com.)


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