Commentary: When will Obama step up and lead?

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner take part in debt ceiling talks.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner take part in debt ceiling talks. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

With America's looming debt default unresolved and financial markets understandably skittish, President Barack Obama played president Monday with the San Francisco Giants.

Obama congratulated the Giants for winning the World Series. In an effort to show that he's on top of cultural trends, the president said that he feared the beard of relief ace Brian Wilson.

It was a meaningless media event from a president who promised to bring bold ideas and extraordinary resilience to a country rocked by recession but appears to be Gray Davis 2.0.

Davis judged California to be ungovernable, but sought the governorship anyway and won it twice. His perceived solution: let special interests on the left and right duke it out and affirm whatever legislation the winners moved to his desk.

We know how that worked out. Fed up with Davis' lack of leadership and the state's budget problems, voters recalled him in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a rank amateur who failed badly.

Now America is burdened with a president who prefers clean hands and the sidelines to using the office's extraordinary powers to pull the country back from the precipice of further economic trouble.

Does Obama's inaction stem from his assessment that the United States is an ungovernable cauldron of uncompromising blue state/red state loyalties?

Is his lack of leadership on the debt ceiling a political calculation based on the theory that American voters would blame Congress (or just Republicans) for the first federal default in U.S. history?

Or does his ineffectual leadership reflect his lack of executive experience before the presidency?

Obama didn't attach asterisks to his campaign. He promised a real recovery. He promised a quick end to America's two wars. He promised an America that would be more competitive in the global economy.

He has delivered only an illusory recovery propped up by expensive borrowing and foreign policies straight from the administration of George W. Bush.

The stimulus that was supposed to save the nation defines Obama's first 30 months. Instead of getting rid of needless regulation strangling the economy, the president and Congress wrote a huge check for "shovel-ready infrastructure projects." Problem is, in today's America, the only shovel-ready job is picking up after the family dog.

Yes, it's tough being president. Thanks to the Internet and cable TV, the gatekeepers of old can't filter out the extremists and the lunatics.

Public relations and political advocacy have advanced to the extent that reasonable-sounding talking points can be written for indefensible positions. Congress is less interested in solving problems than parroting party lines.

But Obama knew all of this when he signed on. Now opponents – sensing his weakness – are circling and poking with impunity.

After a recent meeting with Republican leaders on the default crisis, the president reportedly lamented that "[President Dwight D.] Eisenhower wouldn't have sat here like this."

Monday night, the president finally jumped into the game with a prime-time speech. He said that Republican plans to trim the deficit solely with budget cuts and without accompanying tax increases on the wealthy "was no way to run the greatest country on earth."

The president and Congress have until next Tuesday to avert further economic damage. It's too bad Obama waited so long to act like commander-in-chief instead of closer-in-chief calculating how to slide into a second term.

Related stories from McClatchy DC