"Obama needs to lead"
We hear this a lot—usually from legislators criticizing Obama for failure to take a more active role in the legislative process.
When it comes from the Republicans, disregard it. They don’t want Obama to take a strong leadership stance. When they say it, they mean, “Why don’t you lead the way through that mine field? We’re right behind you, honest. We would never consider shooting you in the back unless the opportunity arose.”
It’s a bit more complicated when it comes from Democratic legislators. Obama is the leader of the executive branch. Leading the Democrats in the legislator is somebody else’s job. This isn’t to say that Obama can’t or shouldn’t put his weight behind certain initiatives—but Obama’s weight shouldn’t be necessary unless the Democratic leadership has already failed. When the Democrats accuse Obama of failing to lead, they mean, “Obama needs to take over leadership because we suck at it.” Or maybe they mean, “We can’t get this done—but maybe Obama can do the impossible.”
It’s generally phrased as a criticism of Obama—but the criticism that there isn’t anybody in the world other than Obama who could get the job done is back-handed praise.