Douglas Cohn: Obama the manager nothing like Obama the speechmaker

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WASHINGTON — When it comes to delivering a good speech, President Obama is a master. He writes most of the big speeches himself, and places great weight on his ability to move millions of people with his oratory. His eloquence at the 2004 Democratic Convention is what first brought him to the attention of the American people.

But how many times have even his greatest admirers been disappointed in his follow through as president? There is something lacking, and the most obvious explanation for the gap between Obama’s speechifying and his performance as president is his lack of managerial experience.

It’s as though he assumes things will get done simply because he says so. Maybe that happens in a small dictatorship, but in a democracy with a sprawling bureaucracy, a president has to stay on top of things, and fairly or unfairly, Obama looks like he’s behind the curve most days.

This pattern was evident last year when after much hoopla the Obama health care website was unveiled. It wasn’t ready for prime time, and Obama paid dearly for the failed launch. It turned out that he hadn’t put one single person in charge who could ride herd on the outside contractors building HealthCare.gov. He was as surprised as everyone else when the site didn’t live up to his rosy predictions.

Fast forward to today and the immigration crisis that has overwhelmed the White House. The number of minors crossing the border from Central America into Mexico and then into Texas has been building for months, yet the administration seemed surprised when it became a front-page story. There will always be surprises for any president, but it took too long for Obama to find his footing on this one.

The nature of the presidency is one crisis after another, a pattern that suits the media as it lurches from one story to another in search of ratings. Just a few weeks ago, all the newscasts focused on the imminent takeover of Iraq by the terrorist group, ISIS, which employs such brutality that it has been disowned by Al-Qaeda.

Obama was elected on the promise that he would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and combat troops left Iraq some time ago. Maybe Obama anticipated what would happen. If he did, it’s questionable that he could have done much about it. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki did not agree to conditions that would have allowed a contingent of U.S. troops to remain, and Maliki’s patron, Iran, nixed any continued U.S. presence. Still, the way the story played out in the media, Obama looked like he was the last person to know what was going on.

These are all complicated issues, and maybe it’s too simplistic to think if Obama were a better manager, he could have gotten on top of these situations in a timely manner.

Still, Obama never managed anything before becoming the chief executive officer of the United States, and it’s an obvious shortcoming. It’s why governors tend to make better presidents.

Toward the end of his term, President George W. Bush was asked what surprised him the most about being president. He said it was how little power he had. Working the levers of government requires a level of engagement that must be surprising to anyone who occupies the Oval Office.

You are the most powerful person in the world, yet your pronouncements aren’t worth much unless you follow through with the diligence of a task master. Leading is key; speaking isn’t enough.