On the stump during the midterm election campaign of 2010 President Obama told a riveting, amusing, and effective story that served as an illustration of the U.S. economy badly damaged by the 2008 financial meltdown.
The president's story began with Republicans driving a car off the road and into a ditch. The car, he said, became hopelessly stuck in mud and mire as he and his fellow Democrats came to the rescue and valiantly pushed it back on the road. And now that the car was ready to drive, Obama complained that Republicans wanted the keys back. With perfect timing, the president delivered the punch line: "But they don't know how to drive!" The speech may have been an effective bit of electioneering, but it was far from the truth.
A more effective, truthful, and not-as-amusing story might go like this: Let's start with the car in the ditch, with two drivers having had a hand in its demise: Democrats in the driver's seat learning and Republicans as the faint-hearted instructor afraid to correct what they saw their pupil doing wrong. Obama, when he was elected president, was given the job of calling the tow truck. But what did he do? What was his top priority? He started working on a part of the car he decided needed repair: healthcare. He spent over two years and much political capital in trying to fix that part, which was still in decent working order (in fact, it was regarded as the best available in the world). It's as if he had ripped out the car's perfectly good leather upholstery and replaced it with cheap vinyl, all while the car remained in the ditch, but now with an inferior interior. Only with the oncoming 2012 election has the president even begun to give the appearance of pushing the car-and it is only an appearance.
This alternative story raises several questions: Why did Obama wait three years to start pushing? What does this tell us about the president's ability to prioritize? And what will he do if he's given another four years in the White House?
The late Peter Drucker once said a good CEO doesn't just do things well; he does the "right things" well. CEOs set priorities for their organizations, and those priorities ultimately spell success or failure. Obama is our country's CEO, and for him to work on the interior upholstery of the car while that car is still stuck in a ditch shows a serious lack of judgment.
One cannot say with certainty what issues our country will face in the next four years, but what we can say is this: President Obama has definite goals, and those goals translate into priorities, which when coupled with his behavior suggest that he views the presidency as a device to advance his personal agenda-which has nothing to do with getting the car out of the ditch. But it's time to get that car back on the road and put some miles on the odometer.
The president's story is still a good one; it just needed some editing.