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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Was President Obama's Role in Budget Negotiations Undercutting his Role in Presiding?

On April 5, 2011, President Obama observed, “We’re going to have some very tough negotiations. And there are going to be, I think, very sharply contrasting visions in terms of where we should move the country. That’s a legitimate debate to have.” (1) He sounded very presidential in making the statement because he was taking the perspective of the nation as a whole. Furthermore, he used that vantage-point to try to keep negotiations from falling off the track. “If they can’t sort it out,” he said, “then I want them back here tomorrow.” (2) In short, he was presiding, rather than being partisan in taking a side, as he framed the situation facing the union. 

                                             Doug Mills, The New York Times                 

However, even as the president was referring to the two sides sorting the budget out as “they,” he himself was on one of the sides. That is, even though he “sought to position himself above the nitty-gritty haggling going on in Congress, which . . . limited his influence on the process” yet distanced him from any blame, his taking a side in the dispute subtly worked against his attempt to preside to hold the process as a whole together. (3) 

Material from this essay has been incorporated in The Essence of Leadership, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.


1.      Gregory Korte, “Meeting Fails to End Impasse on Federal Budget,” USA Today, April 6, 2011, p. 2A.
2.      Naftali Bendavid, Jonathan Weisman, and Carol E. Lee, "Budget Talks Head to Brink,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2011, pp. A6.
3.      Ibid.