August 20, 2014
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A lot of people have commented on and made fun of the frequency of President Obama’s golfing.
The more I watched President Obama, however, the more I concluded the problem was what was not happening between golf rounds.
Two earlier presidents, Eisenhower and Reagan, golfed frequently but their presidencies were stunningly successful. The difference seemed to be that Eisenhower and Reagan were really effective when they weren’t golfing.
President Eisenhower was a very serious golfer who had been a varsity football player at West Point. Eisenhower joined Augusta and routinely played with business leaders and pro golfers.
When Ike wasn’t golfing, however, he was the best trained strategist to ever occupy the White House. From being first in his class at the Army Command and General Staff College to serving as General MacArthur’s speechwriter to rising meteorically from lieutenant colonel to general of the Armies (five stars), Eisenhower proved to be exceptionally smart and hard-working.
As leader of the Allied forces in Europe, he made many of the biggest decisions in World War II. Ike knew how to run meetings, establish strategies, and manage people to get things done.
Eisenhower’s White House staff actually urged him to get out on the golf course. They knew he was so intense and so driven to succeed that he needed time away from the office to decompress.
President Reagan had a very different background from President Eisenhower but a very similar approach to disciplined, strategic leadership and focusing on what mattered.
Reagan had actually learned from Eisenhower that it helped to be underestimated and seen as pleasant and not particularly intense. Reagan used to quip, “They say hard work never killed anyone, but why take chances?”
The Reagan presidency was focused on three very large goals: defeating the Soviet Empire, relaunching American economic growth, and rebuilding the spirit of American civic culture. He achieved all three.
While Reagan knew how to relax, he also knew how to focus intensely on the three goals that mattered. Look at the personal effort he put into defeating the State Department and insisting on keeping the “tear down this wall” line in his Berlin speech in 1987.
The problem with President Obama’s golf outings is the lack of strategic thinking and systematic leadership when he is not on the golf course.
The confusion over Syria, Iraq, ISIS, Hamas, Israel, and Libya is only one example of the growing incoherence of his entire administration.
Lurching from crisis to crisis and story to story with no strategic purpose or long-term implementation makes his golf matches look more consequential than his presidency.
If the economy was growing, the border was controlled, the Middle East was stabilizing and there were no outbreaks of violence in the streets of major American cities, no one would comment on the number of golf games President Obama played. But none of that is the case–which gives you a sense of the achievement gap between the Eisenhower-Reagan model of strategic leadership and the Obama model of tactical improvisation.
Just remember: it’s not the golfing hours, it’s the non-golfing hours that are a problem.
President Obama's Golf: The Real Problem
- on August 20, 2014