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After a year like his, would Obama make it as an NFL coach?

Like Jim Zorn of the woeful Redskins, Obama showed himself to be an ineffective leader of what should have been a productive Congress. 

By Mark Greenbaum / January 19, 2010


President Obama’s first year in office was a lot like the Washington Redskins’ 2009 season: what began with strong promise ended with little accomplished. 

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Players are responsible for their own performance, but when teams lose often, coaches get fired. So it was no surprise that head coach Jim Zorn was dismissed soon after the Redskins finished with a dismal 4-12 record. Similarly, members of Congress, not the president, are responsible for making laws, but a great deal of the blame for the government’s largely wasted year belongs with  the president. The president’s lack of precise leadership in setting out a first-year legislative agenda – his inept play-calling, if you will – did more to muddle Congress than anything House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate majority leader Harry Reid did or did not do. 

Consider the major bills that were signed into law last year:

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the $800 billion stimulus, the hate crimes bill, the cash for clunkers program, the bank bailout, and a toothless mortgage bill.  

These bills expose a compelling indictment of an unproductive Congress, not unlike Zorn’s victories over poor teams. Only the stimulus plan and the bank bailout can be fairly called major initiatives, with the latter extremely unpopular and in retrospect, arguably unnecessary.

The inability of Congress to clear larger initiatives, including those on Democratic wish lists (such as the Employee Free Choice Act), can be traced both to a lack of majority support for passage in Congress for some of these bills and the absence of consistent, driving leadership from the White House.

The so-called cap-and-trade bill is perhaps the best example. Over the summer, the House narrowly passed environmental legislation pleasing to the Democrats’ base and strongly desired by Speaker Pelosi and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman

Obama should have prevented the House from taking up cap-and-trade. It never had a chance of passing the Senate, and thus needlessly exposed vulnerable members to a tough vote. A misreading of the president’s then-high polling numbers likely led the White House to push a poor strategy. Cap-and-trade bogged down Congress, holding up any movement on Obama’s proclaimed No. 1 priority: healthcare. 

The House’s passage of the cap-and-trade bill may have been momentarily satisfying, but it was only symbolic and it needlessly inflamed partisan passions and sapped members’ energy for the even more daunting fight over healthcare reform. 

When both branches are controlled by the same party, Congress (despite its institutional prestige) is a vessel of the presidency, carrying out the White House’s agenda much like a quarterback runs the plays called by the coach. In 2009, the president showed himself to be an ineffective head coach.