When it comes to leadership, what can President Obama learn from Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow? Apparently, quite a lot. At least that’s the claim Matthew Dowd makes in this recent National Journal article. Dowd argues that Obama has lost his leadership mojo: “Take a look at Obama’s latest interview. It does not make you feel better about where we are heading. You don’t feel like we are going to win under his leadership. He points fingers and refuses to admit his own mistakes or weaknesses. I often wonder where is the Barack Obama of the 2007 and 2008 campaign. That Obama was much more like the leader we need at this time. He offered hope, he had soaring rhetoric, he offered a change from the bitter politics in Washington, and he made us feel we could win.”
The cure for Obama’s leadership ills, Dowd argues, is to steal a page from the Tebow playbook and begin “quarterbacking our country” in “Tebow style”. And what is that style? “Tebow is the kind of leader for his football team that our country needs at this crucial moment … . [N]o matter the outcome, Tebow has shown what faith, and confidence and humility can do for a team of limited skills that was losing consistently before. This is exactly what President Franklin Roosevelt and President Reagan understood about leadership…What citizens and businesses need is a leader who can raise us all up to a level we didn’t know we had in us, give us confidence in ourselves, give us a common goal to work toward, and make us believe in and have faith in ourselves again.”
I confess that my first time through I thought this might be one of the most inane columns I have ever read. Upon second reading, however, I was convinced of it. Now, having calmed down a bit, I realize my first and second impressions were exactly right.
Look, as someone who writes what has become essentially a daily blog post, I’m sympathetic to Dowd’s likely motivations in writing this piece. He realized that Tebow is now a national story, and he was probably looking for column material that would attract the maximum google hits. So, we probably shouldn’t take this too seriously. In that vein, let’s play along with Dowd’s logic and see whether Obama has anything to learn from Tebow. To anticipate my conclusion, the short answer is: No. Here’s why.
Let’s begin with the most important point: Tebow doesn’t call his own plays! That’s right – Tebow is miked up and receives direction from the sidelines (and, perhaps, from up above as well – but that’s another story.) It’s possible, I suppose, to do the same with Obama – but who would be calling the shots? Biden? Michelle? If we follow the Tebow football metaphor, why not Bill Belichick? Of course, had Belichick been in charge since day 1 of Obama’s presidency it’s likely that unemployment would be at 4%, Democrats would still control Congress and Obama’s approval would be close 75%. And all with a cabinet composed of political retreads and unknowns.
Still I suppose it’s not too late to bring Belichick on board now. Of course, his first move would probably be to sit Obama. I can hear the press conference now:
Question: “Coach Belichick, why is the President on the inactive list for this week’s game?”
Coach Hoodie: “Coach’s decision for the good of the team. Clinton gives us a better chance to win, so I made the switch. The President’s record being what it is, I just thought it was best to make the switch now. That’s it.” Clinton, of course, would then lead the Democrats to an improbable comeback in 2012, when they reclaim Congress and she gets 8 years. Obama would become a regular on the Rachel Maddow show.
Reason two: Tebow is getting bailed out by his field goal kicker. Who’s going to hit one from beyond 50 yards with time running down for Obama? Hillary? Personally, I prefer Kathy Ireland, but that’s purely for aesthetic purposes. Hillary probably has better distance.
But I digress. My point, I hope is clear. Dowd would have us believe that Obama’ s struggles have something to do with defects in his leadership style. In Dowd’s words: “I do think this Tebow boomlet is about faith. And it’s about confidence. And leadership. And humility — a humbleness born of strength and conviction. It is about Tebow’s faith in his own teammates. It is about his faith and confidence in his own organization. It is about him acknowledging his own weaknesses and failings and mistakes and understanding that if his team looks good, then he looks good… This economy, and our country, do not need more programs out of Washington, D.C., or legislation from Congress, or tax cuts for the wealthy, or more spending on government stimulus. What citizens and businesses need is a leader who can raise us all up to a level we didn’t know we had in us, give us confidence in ourselves, give us a common goal to work toward, and make us believe in and have faith in ourselves again.
It seems this is a leadership lesson we keep having to learn over and over again through our country’s history. It is so easy to forget how successes were achieved along the way by Kennedy-style exhortations such as ‘we are going to the moon.’ It is so easy to default into failing Washington-style, us-against-them, to try and get short-term political success. But maybe a quarterback who seems as much boy as man can show us all, including the candidates for president, how to win and how to get our country back on track.”
Oh, please. Obama’s “failings” to date have nothing to do with a faulty leadership style, and everything to do with a sluggish economy that has failed to create jobs – a failure rooted in a fiscal meltdown that predated his time as the nation’s “quarterback”. And while Obama’s “quarterback play” hasn’t been faultless (see my previous post) the fact remains that he is playing the game under rules set down more than two centuries ago that limit his play calling, and facing a cohesive opposition party that controls half the playing field. It’s going to take more than a wing and a prayer to win this one. Indeed, the whole “us vs. them” football metaphor is misleading. The truth is that in the last week alone Congress has passed both a major appropriations bill and a military authorization bill, and in both cases the legislation had enough bipartisan support to overcome opposition from the extremist wings of both parties. The lesson, I think, is clear: bargaining and compromise, and not Kennedy-style exhortations, are what constitutes real leadership in this political system. Or, to use the football metaphor, Obama should skip the fourth-quarter dramatics and inspirational speeches and instead pursue a strategy of “three yards and a cloud of fuss.” It is amazing how inspirational success – even minor success – can be.
As for Tebow Time – today, he confronts the Devil himself. Let’s see how that turns out.