Our government, with its checks and balances and need for consensus makes for difficult navigation, even if you are captain of the ship.

One of the interesting questions to ponder is assessing how much power a president really has to resolve critical issues.

The rest of us have the luxury of being out of the line of fire while this country’s leaders face the threat that we will soon be out of money and unable to pay our bills.

President Harry Truman said “the buck stops here” — at the president’s desk — and he was right.

Perhaps it’s too simplistic to view the presidency this way, but the person in the Oval Office is the ultimate decision-maker for the government of our country. He takes the lion’s share of the blame or the credit for events that unfold during his administration.

President Obama failed over the last few weeks to get the consensus he needed to raise the debt ceiling, and he failed to save the country from the maddening debate about spending cuts vs. tax increases. As is often the case, the president can’t win. He made a meaningful attempt to reach an agreement with the speaker of the house, Republican John Boehner. The plan failed, but it brought Obama criticism from those on the far left of his own party who believed he had abandoned them and the progressive Democratic principles they espouse.

Republicans, meanwhile, even those he was attempting to appease, do not believe Obama does enough of anything to help move the country forward.

The internal revolt within the two parties is almost comical. Liberals say Obama isn’t liberal enough. The tea party folks say Boehner isn’t conservative enough.

At some point Obama will have to act as if he’s the CEO of the country and support a plan — his own or someone else’s. By week’s end, he hadn’t done that; he still seemed to be waiting for someone else to solve the problem.

The 2012 election is a long way in the future, but the president knows what the defining issue will be in his campaign for re-election: the economy, and by that I do not mean our debt level or ability to borrow.

The economy, for purposes of politics, can be measured in three words: jobs, jobs, jobs. The debate about the debt ceiling is more philosophical than real. Jobs are real. The state of the economy is real. While the debate was raging about the debt ceiling, news reports were shouting more bad news:

“The United States economy has slowed considerably this year from a year ago,” said a report from the Commerce Department released on Friday.

The news came as Congress wrangled about how to put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path without slowing the recovery even more, or throwing the country back into recession.

It is unbelievable that a person runs for president and does not realize he has to make the tough decisions and solve the problems that split not only the political parties but the ranks within the parties. If you want to be the nation’s chief executive, you have to know that the buck stops with you.

We have problems underlying the debt ceiling and borrowing crisis. They are the most serious we face.

The president must find a way to put people back to work and enable a recovery of our economy as a whole. Those are the priorities.

The CEO of the country needs to lead. President Obama should not get a pass because his job and the process of democracy are difficult. He wanted the job, and now he should do it.


Richard Connor is chairman and CEO of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

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