Some may question President Obama’s leadership skills. But his ability to communicate has been called near-magical. Until about now…

truthout is concerned.

Barack Obama may be one of the best communicators of this generation, but he is not living up to his own talents. In a year of disasters, communication failure doubles the disasters.

If, as he says, the monster spill was his highest priority from Day 1, he needed to communicate that from Day 1 – or at least Day 3 or 4. It took five weeks for him to tell the nation what he and his administration were doing. The result was visible in the press conference [last week]. He was on the defensive. He needed to be on the offensive – from early on. The choice is not doing or communicating. It is doing **and** communicating.

His base is getting disgruntled. They’re trying really hard to excuse missteps, but there are so many of them now.

Crises are opportunities. He has consistently missed them. Today was a grand opportunity to pull together the threads – BP and the spill, Massey and the mine disaster, Wall Street and the economic disaster, Anthem BlueCross and health care, the Arizona Immigration Law, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even Afghanistan. The press threw him fastballs straight down the middle, and he hit dribblers every time.

They are being honest. The press have continually thrown him fastballs straight down the middle, just longing for him to nail them with the finesse he showed in his campaign for this office. But he is….discombobulated in his responses, when he does respond.

It’s not that he said nothing to tie them together.  But there was no home run, no unifying narrative, no patriotic call to the nation on the full gamut of issues. Instead, there were only hints, suggestions, possible implications, notes of concern – as if he had been intimidated by the right-wing message machine.

So there it is. He has lost his empathy, and the right-wing is to blame.

Some questions: What would a “unifying narrative” sound like? What would it encompass? What’s the operative definition of ‘patriotic’ these days?

This piece has the potential to be good debate material, and the writer does make clear his ideology and worldview that informs his morals. Good. Establish your premise and make a reasonable case. But where it descends into standard divisive political sniping…is right here, on the issue of empathy as “the central narrative of American democracy.”

But to make it central and powerful would be confrontational. It would bring him head-to-head with right-wing ideology – empathy-free, self-interest maximizing, with disdain or even hatred for those seen as lesser beings. It is self-reinforcing:  a value-system that above all promotes that value-system itself. That is why right-wing Republicans always vote no to his proposals. Because to vote yes would strengthen an empathy-based moral system and weaken their own.

This devolves even further…

Because right-wing ideology takes precedence over empathy, there will be little or any real bipartisanship with those on the hard-core right.  The right is provoking confrontation. It cannot be avoided. The president should be confronting the right wing on all issues – not issue-by-issue as a policy wonk, but with the master moral narrative that makes sense of our country’s values.

Yes, we should have debate over the moral narrative that has always been central to the American identity. But one that extends the presumption of good intentions on those who disagree. One that both makes a reasoned case for principle and listens to a counter-argument, in the classical sense of intellectual argument. And one that follows an idea through to its logical conclusion. Because  a good debate could be had over what truly constitutes empathy, for one thing.

The writer lists several things the president ’should’ do. One of the last is this:

The president should ask the First Lady to sponsor a major government program to do research on and support empathetic parenting, along the lines of his 2008 Father’s Day speech.

That was a very good speech, inspiring to hear Obama challenge men to be responsible in their fatherhood. So about empathetic parenting…let’s have an honest and reasonable discussion about how abortion squares with that. Because in that Father’s Day speech, Obama emphasized that fatherhood doesn’t end at conception.  And besides being a great point, it reinforced the fact of human biology…that at conception, a child exists. So let’s hear more, indeed.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....