Does New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership style put President Barack Obama’s to shame? The always-must-read-Nate Silver raises the issue HERE — an issue I have been fascinated with before Friday’s successful Cuomo-backed and Cuomo-pieced-together vote to pass New York’s same sex marriage law.
I’m now collecting my thoughts for a column on this issue. But back in my days as a Democrat (I have been in both parties) I was an admirer of Cuomo’s dad Mario Cuomo both in his early years and when he began being mentioned as a possible Democratic party nominee. And I was one of those frustrated about how he dithered and dithered and earned the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson” (due to to run or not to run?) and lost his political moment — which later led to a path endinng in the evaporation of his political career and a big decline in his national clout.
I’ve always been struck by how much better focused the younger Cuomo is (even though the younger Cuomo was one of the ones who reportedly suggested Mario Cuomo not make the total leap), how he is not afraid to use power but also seems willing to build coalitions and take risks. And I have long felt that if this Cuomo’s moment arrives he won’t dither and will be a formidable foe for any Democrat running against him for the nomination — or a GOPer who runs against him if he gets it.
Which brings us to Barack Obama. I still believe Obama has his own style that is increasingly puzzling to many on both sides. The jury is still out as to whether in the end he proves to be successful or a flop but on a host of issues it is not looking good for Obama. Silver notes that Cuomo’s leadership style is ” setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.”
Then he writes:
It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.
Mr. Obama has some considerable achievements, including his health care bill and the reversal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers. But he often seems to achieve them by outsourcing much of the work to Democrats in Congress or to his various lieutenants. And his considerable speaking abilities sometimes seem to be directed more toward healing the country in times of crisis than toward persuading it to move in a new direction.
It’s a strategy that Mr. Obama’s critics and admirers have sometimes characterized as “leading from behind.” One could rightly argue that being president of the United States is an order of magnitude more difficult than being governor of New York, and that Mr. Obama’s performance has been fair to good under the circumstances. But his seemingly risk-averse approach roils many Democrats, even as most of them approve of his overall performance.
That Mr. Cuomo’s accomplishment pertains to same-sex marriage, an issue on which Mr. Obama has adopted an indecipherable position born of a cynical-seeming political calculus, makes the contrast sharper. And that it involved achieving cooperation from Republicans, something Mr. Obama has rarely received, makes it seem as though Mr. Cuomo has more effectively executed upon Mr. Obama’s “theory of change” than the president himself, demonstrating that articulating clear and unapologetic goals is not incompatible with persuading votes on the margins.
Whoever is the Democratic nominee in 2016, he or she will almost certainly endorse same-sex marriage, as about two-thirds of Democratic voters already do. But it’s unlikely that any of them will be able to better Mr. Cuomo’s accomplishment. Particularly if Mr. Obama loses next year, his approach toward leadership is one that many Democratic voters will have an appetite for.
Indeed, many Democrats are beginning to conclude that Obama has been in move caves than when Fred Flintstone lost his lease.
In the end, Obama may be judged to be and not be many things but one thing is now clear: an FDR or LBJ he ain’t.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.