Building a Presidential Legacy: Politician or Leader?

Written by William Pauwels on March 26, 2013

732px-Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927Does President Obama ever concern himself with his prospective legacy? Judging by his first term he will surely be remembered as a great politician. However, being remembered as a great politician is not the most flattering description.

Great presidents are more often than not remembered as great leaders. Based on that criteria, it appears Obama will not be remembered as a great president. Certainly he has not concerned himself with that evaluation based on his first term in office. His response to most situations has been political – hit the road, give speeches, rally the faithful, condemn his opponents, apply Saul Alinsky tactics, etc.  Clearly he is one of the best – and perhaps the very best presidential politician of all time. Not the most flattering remembrance, but perhaps good enough for this president.

Getting worthwhile and responsible things done is the usual sign of great presidential leadership – if it is not done by bullying. Great leaders attract willing followers. Great leaders motivate following. Great Presidents motivate the nation in an appropriate and responsible and affordable direction and result.

Clearly, Obama’s agenda is to transform America into an entitlement, quasi-socialistic society – a memory that will only be praised by its recipients and our altruistic citizens. It is doubtful that producers, the successful, the powerful, the influential men and women of the future will see Obama’s entitlement society as a source of national strength and greatness – as admirable as it might seem to some. The greatness of a nation results from its collective productivity – not from the sloth of its taker-citizens.

I suppose the challenge of establishing a great legacy in the face of Obama’s sincere concern for the less fortunate is to lead our nation in two directions – concern for the less fortunate – and the continuance of the American-Way (Free-Market, Constitutional, Free-Enterprise.)

To repeat – a great nation can only be built on the collective productivity of its people. It’s historically been called the “American work ethic”. Great nations have never been built on government policies that encourage sloth: Prolonged unemployment compensation, excessive minimum-wage, liberal disability compensation, food stamps, education subsidies, etc. Unfortunately, all of these metrics have increased dramatically since the Democrats took control of government in 2007 – and especially so since Obama became president in 2009.

For example, 47 million Americans are on food stamps.  This is outrageous!  How can the president allow that to happen?  It’s time to get America’s house back in order – to put people back to work paying their own way.  But Obama seems uncommitted to that goal. His methodology is simplistic and destructive: tax the successful and the producers and give it to the non-producers. He shows no imagination or leadership or desire to reestablish the American work ethic which made our nation great. He seems comfortable with sloth and idleness and government dependency.

Like the President, I’m bothered by the fact that many working people do not receive a wage sufficient to support themselves and their families. That’s not right. Obama proposed a nine dollar minimum wage in his State of the Union Message. That works out to $18,720 per year, pretax, for a full-time, 40 hour per week employee working 50 weeks a year.  A two wage-earner household would earn $37,440 per year under this scenario.

Apparently, Obama does not recognize that many businesses could not afford to pay that level of compensation and would be forced out of business – or would be forced to reduce their employment levels – if nine dollars per hour was mandatory. He apparently does not recognize that higher wages will drive up the price of products and services – in effect, a de facto tax on all consumers.  Clearly, these are the undisputed undesirable effects of a higher minimum wage rate.

America cannot – must not – continue to pay people for not working. Again, the wealth and prosperity of any nation is dependent on the collective productivity of its citizens. Rewarding people for not working will only produce more non-working people – and less productivity – and less prosperity – and more food stamp dependency.

What to do? To increase employment and prosperity, the government should discontinue the minimum wage – and allow employers to pay what’s required to appropriately staff their operations. Then, instead of paying unemployment compensation to non-workers, the government should pay the difference between a worker’s wages and $18,720, annualized.

Obama could do this. If an inexperienced employee’s annualized wage-rate was, say, $10,000 per year, the government could provide vouchers for food and clothing and education, etc., of $8720.   Thus the employee would receive the $18,720 per year of compensation as recommended in the President’s State of the Union Speech.

Although this subsidy will come from taxpayers, it would be less than providing unemployment compensation to people for not working.  Subsidized employees under this scheme would at least be productive and would contribute to the overall well-being of our nation.  It would put more Americans back to work – especially our youth and under-skilled – thus reducing unemployment compensation and sloth.  And, unlike an ever increasing minimum wage, it would not necessarily drive up prices.
Hopefully, a strategy of this sort would minimize government meddling in the lives of our citizens. They could spend their subsidy on their legitimate needs, wants and expectations – not on those dictated by some Washington bureaucrat.

By rewarding people who work and produce – America would benefit from more workers and more producers – and fewer non-workers and non-producers.  It would re-instill the work ethic in our citizens and give our youth their first jobs and the work experience they need to go forward as productive and responsible citizens.

This is simply one straightforward example of what a great leader might do to solve America’s employment and economic growth problems. 

Obviously, Obama has four more years to establish a legacy of great leadership.  But he must pivot away from ever increasing government handouts and dependency, and move toward practical and affordable solutions based on the American-Way ― the American Prosperity Machine.

Image: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park; ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 541927; public domain

William Pauwels
William A. Pauwels, Sr. was born in Jackson Michigan to a Belgian, immigrant, entrepreneurial family. Bill is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and served in executive and/or leadership positions at Thomson Industries, Inc., Dow Corning, Loctite and Sherwin-Williams. He is currently CIO of Pauwels Private Investment Practice. He's been commenting on matters political/economic/philosophical since 1980.