Can Obama Overcome His Maturity Challenge?

A major question in the media narrative about the Republican convention was whether Mitt Romney would be able to overcome his "likeability" challenge.  Though the question admittedly stems from Romney's high "unfavorable" ratings in a number of polls, that narrative conveniently sidesteps the question of how an upstanding citizen with a successful and honorable career in both the private and public sectors and a long record as an upstanding member of his church would be viewed in an unfavorable light in the first place.

The answer, of course, is that most upstanding citizens are not the targets of a smear campaign calling them felons and tax cheats who deny treatment to women with cancer.  Even with no basis in reality, repeated assaults such as those from the Obama camp have a way of influencing the perception of voters who absorb their political views from the liberal media and from campaign ads. 

But, with the Republican convention now history and the Democrats convening in Charlotte, perhaps the attention of voters should be directed to another question, one that is unlikely to be posed by the Obama campaign's supporters in the news media: what kind of person would engage in such a smear campaign or condone it from his followers?

Spin control is nothing new in politics, and informed voters expect to see unemployment numbers, for example, spun as encouraging signs or as indicators of failed policies, depending on who is in power.  But outright lies, unsubstantiated accusations, and character assassination go beyond the realm of spin control.  Such tactics raise -- or should raise -- serious questions about the maturity and character of the person who uses them.

Acceptance of personal responsibility is one hallmark of personal maturity, and Barack Obama seems to fall dangerously short in that regard.  Even though the economy was clearly in trouble when Obama took office, his repeated blaming of his predecessor for the nation's problems seemed to indicate, early on, a lack of polish as a leader.  After all, President Reagan inherited a struggling economy, but he focused the attention of the nation on realistic, workable plans to correct the problems.  Reagan took the situation as he found it, assumed responsibility for turning it around, and led the nation into an unprecedented period of peacetime growth. 

But Obama's resistance to taking responsibility for problems, despite his frequent use of the first-person singular pronoun and his messianic promises during the 2008 campaign, have practical implications for the health of the nation.  If Obama cannot see the connection between his policies and the miserable state of the economy, then he cannot correct course.  And Obama's legendary narcissism seems to blind him to those connections.   Furthermore, the stunning lows that his campaign has reached raise far more troubling questions than any about mere likeability. 

An old story in business consulting tells of an outgoing CEO who gave three numbered envelopes to his successor with instructions to open them in order each time a crisis arose.  The new CEO opened the first envelope during the first crisis and found the words "Blame your predecessor."  That strategy worked, and so the CEO opened the second envelope during a second crisis and found the words "Blame the economy."  Again, that strategy worked.  When the third crisis hit, and the CEO opened the third envelope, he found the words "Prepare three envelopes."

That story resonates with executives in the private sector because it drives home the point that, at some point, people in leadership roles have to lead.  Shifting blame and lying to divert attention from one's record are not the actions of a mature person, let alone a mature leader.  And a troubling question about Obama all along has been not just his lack of seasoning and experience in leadership prior to taking the White House, but also what appears to be a strong narcissistic streak in his personal makeup.  

So, what can Obama do in Charlotte to overcome his maturity challenge?  First, he can acknowledge that he is at the helm and that the current state of the economy, for good or ill, is a result of his policies.  Second, he can make a case based on evidence and reason that his policies will lead the country away from the approaching fiscal cliff.  Show us the numbers that support higher taxes on the private sector.  If there was sound thinking behind his $716 billion in Medicare cuts, then explain that thinking instead of accusing the Republicans of wanting to throw Grandma off a cliff.  If, in retrospect, those cuts were ill-advised, acknowledge the mistake and offer to correct it. 

Finally, the scurrilous tactics used by the Obama campaign so far are not only beneath the dignity of the office he holds, but also an insult to the intelligence of the voters.  A promise during his acceptance speech to correct the course of his campaign would go a long way toward overcoming Obama's maturity deficit with the voters.

On the other hand, Obama could simply prepare three envelopes.

Dr. Timothy Daughtry is co-author of Waking The Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals At Their Own Game.

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