To Speak...or Not to Speak

An important component of leadership is not in just knowing what to say but also in knowing when and when not to say anything. President Obama has seemed unaware of this in recent days, not only in his performance in foreign affairs but in domestic matters, as well.

On the domestic front, this is from the Washington Post of 17 February: Obama accused Scott Walker, the state's new Republican governor, of unleashing an "assault" on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would change future collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

This is from Fox News of 25 February: When candidate Obama was campaigning in South Carolina in 2007, he said he was proud to wear the “union label” and that if workers were denied rights to organize or collectively bargain when he was elected, “I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I'll will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America.”

It seems from the former quote that the president recognized the necessity, according to his philosophy, of doing what he promised in the second quote. Either he misspoke (politicians never lie) in one or both of those quotes, or he simply didn’t mean what he said, actually misspeaking (but not lying, of course). In any case, he was not seen, whether in comfortable shoes or not, walking a picket/protester line in Wisconsin. Words have a way of coming back to haunt.

Obviously, Obama should have said absolutely nothing with respect to the Wisconsin affair. In South Carolina, he clearly was pandering, often called campaigning, wherein the truth is actually not expected in presidential politics. However, a lie is a lie is a lie.

In foreign affairs, the president would have done well to say nothing recently. He decided that Egyptian President Mubarak should leave office, called him on the phone to tell him so, and then sent an emissary to make sure Mubarak understood Obama’s edict. The emissary disgreed publicly with the president after he had arrived on the scene and observed the actual facts.

Mubarak did leave office eventually (not just when the prez told him to) but not because of Obama’s edict; rather, he got out of Dodge because his army would not be expected to fire on fellow Egyptians. Egypt now is in turmoil, with the latest fad being a monstrous effort to drive Christians from the country. There’s no significant governmental structure and chaos will prevail. Obama would have been better off to keep his mouth shut. Ditto for State Secretary (rubber stamp) Clinton, both of whom tried to run another country’s government.

Or…take the case of Libya. It took a while as people died in the streets (was Obama on a lengthy learning curve?) but finally Obama told Libyan strongman Qadaffi to make haste and take a powder. Qaddafi demurred, knowing that in his rule the army and hired mercenaries WOULD fire on Libyans, thus making Obama’s edict worthless and a subject of ridicule throughout the world.

This would not necessarily be the case if President Obama had done anything to back up his edict to Qaddafi. There was much talk of a no-fly-zone and this was even approved by the Arab League, amounting to making war on Libya. Obama certainly was not prepared to do that and so sanctions have been put in place instead, as if they mean anything.

The president hasn’t been as feckless as the French government, which recognized officially an opposition “government,” knowing full well that it wouldn’t lift a finger to help that group of insurgents. The fact remains, however, that he has talked the walk but will not walk the walk, not least because this country will not stand for another Middle East dustup. Obviously, he should have kept his mouth shut.

The president’s words about unionists and collective bargaining meant nothing. His words concerning both Mubarak and Qaddafi meant nothing. In none of these cases was he prepared to actually DO anything. Talk is cheap. But the greater truth is simply that there are times when there should be no talk at all, such as when no action is planned…or, when action IS planned. Most often, silence is golden.