One of the basic things Americans demand of their President is strong leadership.
Ronald Regan was considered to be a strong leader and Americans of all political stripes gave him overwhelming majorities in his two terms as president. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, while considered to be a good person, was perceived as a weak leader and voted out of office after his first term.
Barack Obama seems to be on the Jimmy Carter track if the recent polls are to be believed. According to Gallup:
All party groups are less likely to consider Obama a strong leader than they were a year ago. Now, under half of independents (49%) believe Obama is a strong and decisive leader, compared with 56% in 2010. The vast majority of Democrats continue to believe he is a strong leader, but that, too, is down from 89% to 81%. Republicans' views of Obama's leadership, the least positive of the three groups, are down the most since last year (32% to 19%).
There's no surprise to be found among the two major party results except that the decline is also found to have been fairly significant even among Democrats. But what should be worrying the Obama reelection team are the numbers among independents. For the first time fewer than half consider Obama to be a "strong and decisive leader".
Quinnipiac's most recent poll alerts us to the fact that the President's job approval ratings are again headed down to record levels and, more importantly, they're bad enough that a majority says he "does not deserve re-election":
American voters disapprove 48 - 42 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing and say 50 - 41 percent he does not deserve to be re-elected in 2012, both all-time lows, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Again, independents disapprove 50% to 41%, a 9 point deficit. The questions on the war in Libya give us another indication of how voters perceive his leadership:
Voters oppose 47 - 41 percent America's involvement in Libya. In the survey concluded Monday evening as President Obama was addressing the nation about Libya, voters say 58 - 29 percent that he has not clearly stated U.S. goals for Libya.
The most recent Pew poll validates the numbers:
Just 39 percent of Americans think Obama has clear goals in Libya, while 50 percent think he doesn't, according to poll results released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Just 47 percent of Americans support the U.S. airstrikes, while 36 percent don't and 17 percent don't know, according to the Pew poll.
Interestingly, Gallup also found that the action in Libya had "the lowest level of initial support for a U.S. military action in at least three decades, and the first time in 10 interventions dating to the 1983 invasion of Grenada that a majority of Americans didn't support the action at the onset."
Some will write off the lack of support to "war weariness" and attempt to exempt Obama's leadership, or lack thereof, from of the equation. But that simply doesn't track with the polls. One of the functions of a strong national leader is to unite the country behind efforts such as Libya. Such a leader explains the problem clearly, succinctly addresses the proposed solution and leads from the front - being both visible and available to the citizenry as he commits their sons and daughters to war.
Instead, in the case of Libya, we got a snap decision, no explanation and then the spectacle of our leader leaving the country on a foreign trip complete with videos of him kicking soccer balls around with the children in another country as the war began.
Despite claims to the contrary, most leaders aren't born to it, but develop their leadership skills during their lifetime by actually working their way through a series of leadership jobs of increasing size and responsibility. It is one of the reasons that most political observers believe (and history seems to validate) that governors make much better presidents than do members of Congress. Governors have to lead and lead successfully to even be considered for the highest leadership office in the land. Career legislators, on the other hand, have very few, if any opportunities to learn or practice leadership skills in their jobs.
That is the sort of leadership deficit we're seeing become obvious with a career legislator in the White House. He simply doesn't have the leadership skills or experience to lead well or confidently, and that is now showing itself with a vengeance. The presidency is not a job we should give to someone as an OJT assignment. The outcome is both predictable and dangerous. Here's hoping the next time we pick a president, we leave the emotion and history out of the choice and grade the candidates on their proven ability to lead, not their ability to charm or speak well.