Is Obama a Weak Leader?

I can hardly believe I’m asking the question. I mean, I love the guy. Always have. My family is from the Chicago area and they boarded the Obama Express before he arrived in Washington, so I was an early adopter. (My mother — Democrat of the year in Schaumburg, Ill. in 2004 — created a damn shrine to the dude in her garage: Obama posters, Obama dolls, pictures of her with Obama, etc.) When he was elected to the Senate in 2004, I attended his inauguration reception at the Library of Congress. I canvassed for him last year during the presidential election — something I had never done before. I snagged a coveted ticket to his presidential inauguration (through my mother, of course) and stood in the bitter cold for hours even though the security goons wouldn’t let us in. I like everything about him. And what’s not to like? He has the brilliance, ambition, stamina and charisma of Bill Clinton, but without Clinton’s neediness and sexual disfunction.

I also understand that I’m not always going to be happy with the president’s decisions. He has many priorities and he’s subject to incredible political pressure, and each of his policies and decisions must be viewed in that broader context.

But what has me doubting his leadership this morning is this paragraph from today’s New York Times article on the Obama Administration’s abrupt decision to renege on its earlier commitment to a strong federal shield law for reporters: “The administration informed Congress of its proposal after an Oval Office meeting Monday between Mr. Obama and several top members of his national security team, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III; and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to people involved with the negotiations. Military and intelligence officials have also expressed concerns about the bill.”

Well, of course his “national security team” is going to be against the shield law. That’s what national security teams do. If it was up to his national security team we’d all have electronic surveillance anklets to make their job easier. It’s his job to tell them no when their desire for security overwhelms our need for an open and accountable government. That’s one of the things we elected him to do.

Did Obama really cave so easily on this issue? There are a number of other possibilities. Perhaps they didn’t even discuss the shield law during that meeting on Monday, and the administration changed its position for other reasons. Or maybe there are political considerations that I’m simply not aware of. After all, while a shield law is important to journalists and those of us who work on behalf of journalists, it is hardly the most important issue our nation faces.

I certainly hope it was something like that. Because if it just boils down to an inability to say no to his national security team, I’m much more concerned about the next three years than I was before this sudden flip-flop.