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Obama is dropping the ball by fighting ideology with ideology

America's embattled leader could learn a thing or two from Mandela's support for a white rugby team.

U.S. President Barack Obama (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty)

It is really too bad that U.S. President Barack Obama isn’t a regular reader of the National Post. If he was, then POTUS might just have a better shot at another term in the White House, although there are plenty of reasons to wonder why anyone would actually want to be charged with putting the finances of that particular house in order.

The editorial slant at the Post isn’t known for supporting Big Government. But that has never prevented my former employer from being a good read or a provider of valid opinion. The pages of Canada’s other national newspaper even frequently offer sound advice on leadership. That was the case earlier this month, when Gerard Seijts, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, penned an article on parallels that exist between Obama’s current political challenges and the ones successfully navigated by former South Africa president Nelson Mandela.

Seijts, executive director of Ivey’s Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, noted that Mandela’s leadership can be summed up in three words: competency, character and commitment. Plenty of folks would say the same about Obama. The big difference is the commitment.

As Seijts points out, the former president of South Africa made a point of reaching out to the white population by offering uninhibited support to the white Springbok rugby team, which Mandela’s black supporters, recovering from almost 50 years of apartheid, wanted to abolish.

Simply put, Mandela wanted to get elected and get things done, so he overcame popular anti-white sentiment and declined to engage in petty revenge. Obama, on the other hand, has urged Washington to put politics aside in order to get things done. But when push comes to shove, he appears to only want to get things done if they are done his way, meaning raising taxes on the rich while leaving U.S. spending on social and health programs untouched. And since his opponents will never let that happen, you have to wonder if Obama is really just committed to trying to look good to his weakening political base.

As independent Wall Street economist Robert Brusca pointed out in a recent commentary, Obama was once the toast of the town, given the Nobel Peace Prize just for getting elected and not being George Bush. Today, unless something dramatic happens to his approval ratings, he is just “toast.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, taxes are the now the defining issue in the U.S. budget debate. But as Brusca argues, “unwillingness to cut a bloated budget is at least as big an issue.” And he notes Obama is just as rigid when it comes to protecting federal entitlement spending as any Tea Party member is on raising taxes. “This is refusal to cut benefits is a losing battle,” Brusca says. “This is a battle of the spread sheets.”

America needs to get its fiscal house in order and simple math says Obama’s plan to increase taxes on the rich alone will not get the job done. Like it or not, a significant reduction in spending on social services and health-related entitlements is also required.

When it comes to fiscal woes in the world’s largest economy, the focus has been the nation’s US$14-plus trillion debt. But that doesn’t include obligations tied to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which sit around US$50 trillion. All together, as Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO), pointed out on CNBC earlier this year, the liabilities backed by Uncle Sam make Greece look fiscally prudent. And no amount of supporting rhetoric, no matter how great, will change that.

It is easy for Obama to go on TV and attack the rich. But a better leader would strive to balance the budget via a realistic mix of properly timed spending cuts and tax initiatives. Maybe POTUS will watch Clint Eastwood’s Invictus and become more like Mandela. Maybe he will find another way to engage Republicans. Whatever the case, until something happens, the boys and girls in Washington will remain in a Mexican standoff, with guns pointed at everyone in the country.