Yes, you read that right.
In an interview with GQ Magazine, the man in the position often referred to as “the leader of the most powerful country in the world” bared a realization – that the job of president of the United States isn’t as powerful as one might expect it to be.
But what I didn’t fully appreciate, and nobody can appreciate until they’re in the position, is how decentralized power is in this system. When you’re in the seat and you’re seeing the housing market collapse and you are seeing unemployment skyrocketing and you have a sense of what the right thing to do is, then you realize, “Okay, not only do I have to persuade my own party, not only do I have to prevent the other party from blocking what the right thing to do is, but now I can anticipate this lawsuit, this lobbying taking place, and this federal agency that technically is independent, so I can’t tell them what to do. I’ve got the Federal Reserve, and I’m hoping that they do the right thing—and by the way, since the economy now is global, I’ve got to make sure that the Europeans, the Asians, the Chinese, everybody is on board.” A lot of the work is not just identifying the right policy but now constantly building these ever shifting coalitions to be able to actually implement and execute and get it done.
[NB:emphasis by author]
One thing I learned through some tough election cycles: You can’t separate good policy from the need to bring the American people along and make sure that they know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that’s particularly true now in this new communications era. I think that we were ahead of the curve in 2008 in social media and the Internet and digital communications. When we came into office, instead of taking some of those lessons, we suddenly adapted ourselves to the White House press room and structures that had been built back in the 1940s and ’50s. As a consequence of those missteps early, we got the policies right, and that’s why the economy now has grown for five and a half straight years, six years, and why unemployment rates have gone from 10 percent to 5.1 percent. But there was a lot of political pain along the way that might not have been necessary.
Quite simply, presidential power in the American system involves a lot of persuasion.
…on a great many issues, the president isn’t the policy-wonk-in-chief, he’s the coalition-builder-in-chief. And without a strong enough coalition, he can’t get his way. This is true on issue after issue — from gun control to the cap-and-trade bill to immigration reform.
…didn’t just mean that the president has to rely only on convincing people with the power of his words. Instead, the president is engaged in a long bargaining give and take with all of those actors Obama listed. The president’s position, prominence, and powers provide many advantages in that process. Still, of course, presidents often fail to get their way — and even when they do get what they want, they feel like they’re working awfully hard at it.
The thing about being in an insignificant, backwater, consumerist country like the Philippines is that the economic, political, and social decisions made by its national government have significantly less impact on the global stage compared to America’s. A developed, First World country’s problems will naturally be differen from those of a developing, Third World’s. Nonetheless, there is still a need for the Philippines to represent itself, especially in its immediate region, as a responsible member of the greater community.
There is still a need for the Philippines to come together as a nation in order for it to realize its true potential. The people do have to come together and do their part, but they also need a leader who can bring them together and galvanize them.
Why is US president Obama’s insight into the powerlessness of the presidency something to consider in the Philippine setting? Simple, we copied their system of government off-the-shelf.
As the scenario for the next national elections is being written, one constant need has been that of for a president who can truly bring the nation together, knows how to persuade both his peers in government and the people, and build coalitions in order to get things done. The soon-to-end administration of Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino, whose parallels to Obama have been drawn by his supporters, has, despite all his rhetoric of change, proven to be no less different from or divisive than those who came before him. BS Aquino encouraged during his term a “you’re either with us or against us” thinking, which was most visibly symbolized by his incessant use of a yellow ribbon instead of a pin of the national flag.
We do have to take note, however, of one particular feature of the Philippine setup. For a long time, previous presidents have held congress by the balls through use of the pork barrel. It was a tool used – by BS Aquino too, no less – by presidents in order to make sure that he/she gets his way with what he/she wants Congress to do. Supposedly, pork barrel is already no more – declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and all – but it is a guarantee that it will come back in the future in another way, shape, form, or acronym. It has become the whole point of running for office here in the Philippines, after all.
That trait, however, makes one point all the more poignant. If we were to compare presidents Obama and Aquino, Obama seems to have had a difficult time getting things done due to, in no small part, the skullduggery of the opposition. BS Aquino, on the other hand, despite having the pork barrel and other acronym funds at his disposal, was unable to get anything done. It was in no small part due to the fact that the only thing BS Aquino had going for him then was that he was the son of dead revered people; he was no leader, and he definitely didn’t possess any skill in statescraft and statesmanship. It was partly also because he had no grand vision and plan for the country anyway; he was too focused on getting revenge on his political enemies.
So now, the Filipino people are at a crossroads again. Are they going to choose a leader who can bring them together? After what has been inarguably a failed 30-year experiment with democracy, it looks like a growing number of Filipinos are finding a firmer iron fist – some say it borders on dictatorial – attractive again.
There is no substitute for Filipinos needing to think things through and scrutinize thoroughly all those who run for public office. That is the only way Filipinos can start getting on the right path towards a better future.
[Photo courtesy: Cleveland.com]
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