Where’s the competence?

By Brian S

6a00d8341c858253ef00e55470ceec8834-640wiI’ve always been a Peggy Noonan fan, and her article in today’s Wall Street Journal is spot on.  One of the key arguments Democrats made in favor of Obama’s candidacy was that he was far more competent than McCain, and light years above George W. Bush.  In a throwback to the old days of Michael Dukakis and his theme of “It’s not about ideology, it’s about competence,” the President stressed how much more competent he and his team would be during both the campaign and later during the transition.

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And, despite the spin attempts by the White House and the slow-to-react mainstream media, people have been questioning the claim that the Obama Administration is far more competent than the Bush Administration was for a while now.  The list of missteps the President and his team have made is getting longer every day (if you don’t believe me, listen to Sean Hannity’s radio show – he lists them every day at least once during the broadcast). From his cabinet full of tax cheats (at least, the ones who actually got approved by the Senate), his tin ear on illegal immigration, his obsession with passing an unpopular and unconstitutional health care reform law, to his failure to focus on the economy after passing the stimulus (which also never lived up to his or his Administration’s claims) the bloom is definitely off the rose when it comes to questions of competency.

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That brings us to today’s crises.  First, you have his personal response to the Gulf Oil Spill, which has been anemic to the point of being farcical.  Second, you have the White House stonewalling on the attempted bribery of Joe Sestak to get out of the Pennsylvania Senate race in return for high level presidential appointment, either as Secretary of the Navy or something similar.  The President and his administration have sunk to Nixonian levels to ignore that story and refuse to comment on it.  The Sestak issue deserves a post of its own, which I will get to soon.

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2hrpohwYesterday, in one of the President’s very few major press conference since his flub that resulted in the Beer Summit, the President looked like he was doing his best to channel George W. Bush on his worst day.  What I found most revealing is that the President doesn’t seem to be an action oriented guy. He’s a thinker, not a doer. In response to a question about the charges that this was his Katrina, the President responded: “I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons, and make judgments on it, because what I’m spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem.”  Really?  You’re spending your time thinking about how to solve the problem?  The last time I checked, the President was a lawyer, not a engineer.  He should be riding herd on the engineers who are actually solving the problem, not thinking about how to solve it.  We didn’t elect the President to solve problems like this. That’s why he has Departments of the Interior and Energy, a Coast Guard and any number of experts who can help if he thinks BP is incompetent.

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Yes, that’s nitpicky, but it’s evidence of a frustrating mindset that has captured this Administration.  In any organization, there has to be a balance between thinking and doing.  Clearly, many people believed there was too little thinking and too much doing during the Bush Administration.  But now that the pendulum has swung in the other direction, we’re seeing an Administration that is paralyzed by thinking and either unwilling or unable to engage in much doing.  Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the need for planning, but at some point planning and thinking crosses the line from being the sign of competence and cold rationality and enters the realm of avoidance.  It seems to be that the President wants to avoid this issue at all costs now, and has been doing his best to distance himself personally from it from day one.  His visit today to the Gulf will be his second in 40 days.  He’s been there twice.  Bush had visited the Gulf eight times between August 29th when Katrina made landfall and October 10th, almost the same time period.

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He also apparently doesn’t even know about high level personnel changes in his administration. Obama’s appointee to lead the Minerals and Management Service, Elizabeth Birnbaum, resigned yesterday.  When the President was asked about the resignation – whether it was voluntary or involuntary – he had no idea. “I found out about her resignation today. [Secretary of the Interior] Ken Salazar has been in testimony throughout the day, so I don’t know the circumstances in which this occurred,” he said.  Doesn’t know? The President’s appointee to head MMS is quitting and Salazar didn’t even call him ahead of time? Really? Something doesn’t smell right.

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The President’s performance in the press conference smelled of desperation. His administration is desperate to make clear that this isn’t like Katrina, but in doing so, they’re spending more time spinning and appearing to accomplish things, rather than actually accomplishing them.  According to Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Obama hasn’t even returned phone calls of the Congressman who represents the district most affected. Requests have taken weeks to review – such as Governor Jindal’s request for barriers, which the President acknowledged. And 17 offers of assistance from foreign governments have yet to be responded to.  I understand the need to review, but we’re dealing with an on-going crisis – is it wrong to expect that things move a little faster? I don’t think so.

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As LI points out, this issue gets worse as time goes on and I don’t blame just BP.  Despite the volume of air coming out of the White House, we’ve seen very little in the way of constructive action.  Charlie Melancon, the Democratic Congressman running against David Vitter for the Senate seat, was so broken up over the issue he couldn’t make it through a Congressional hearing without having to leave to compose himself.  If that alone doesn’t express to members of an Administration on the same side of aisle as he how big a deal this disaster is to the Gulf, I don’t know what will. The thousands and thousands of fisherman and residents down there feel the same way.

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When Obama was elected, I recall telling my wife “well, I don’t like him ideologically, but at least he seems competent.”  Just yesterday, discussing the same issue, my wife and I actually said we miss the days of Bill Clinton in the White House – if we have to have a Democrat at least Clinton was empathetic and was a good manager (his first year in office notwithstanding).  It’s a pretty sad state when two diehard Republicans are looking back fondly on the Clinton presidency.  As Peggy Noonan wrote, this is an explosive issue for this Administration and it is blowing away the patina of competence Obama claimed to have.  Hopefully BP’s top kill will get this problem resolved and the President takes a good hard look at his Administration and how he manages crises – this won’t be the last one.


Comments

  • Loudoun Insider says:

    Excellent post. And while I was not a GWB fan and think he deserved much of the criticisms he received, could you just imagine the MSM reaction to the current oil spill crisis if GWB were still in office? The MSM have been pretty deferential in general to Obama, but it’s really starting to look like they’ve had their fill of him and his top lieutenants.

  • Brian S says:

    And it’s about time. It’s taken the media over a year to get over their honeymoon with the President, and its about time they start doing their jobs and asking questions. There’s a lot going on here, especially this Sestak business, that doesn’t smell right.

  • Loudoun Insider says:

    The Sestak thing stinks, but I think it’s being blown way out of proportion.

  • pgreer says:

    I love the latest tidbit that the Sestak deal was done by Bill Clinton. LOL. This must be Hillary’s way of getting back at him.

  • Loudoun Insider says:

    One of the FNC talking heads I saw while eating lunch said the last thing Bill Clinton wants to hear is “Special Prosecutor”!

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    So, is this the first time any of you have heard of a party – Democrats or Republicants – trying to avoid a primary by placating a particular challenger? An attempt only happens approximately every time there is a challenger to an incumbent or when there is an open seat and there’s a challenger to the favorite.

    As to the rest, again, what would you have Obama do? Bush was ridiculed for not being able to deliver water to a major American city where fairly straight-forward solutions – like a helicopter and a case of water – existed. This is not the case for the BP spill where there are hundreds of boats and who knows how many people deployed trying to figure out a solution.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “The Sestak thing stinks, but I think it’s being blown way out of proportion.”
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    LI – if the WH offered him a job to drop out of the primary then someone in the WH is guilty of a felony. This isn’t a blow job we’re talking about here.

  • Brian S says:

    NJSM, of course that happens. I just haven’t heard of the White House offering someone a job in order to get them out, which, as Cato notes, is a violation of the law.
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    What I want, or at least expect, is exactly what Peggy Noonan points out in her article – if you’re going to articulate a message that basically says “My government is competent, and you should trust us to do more, like manage health care, etc.” you better be able to deliver on that promise. He hasn’t done that. He hasn’t cared to take responsibility from day one. He’s done his best to fob everything off on BP – the whole “boot on the neck” nonsense Salazar said. Why are we trusting BP to solve the problem they caused?
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    If the Democrats want us to trust that government can solve problems in people’s lives and it deserves their money to do so, they should be able to solve the kinds of problems that only government truly can solve – this is one of those issues. We shouldn’t have to be waiting for a non-American multinational corporation to fix this mess. This is something the government should have been able to do alone. It can’t. It should make the American people question everyone who thinks Government is the solution to problems.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    Peggy would not have written this article 2, 4 or 6 months ago, when the incompetence of Obama was apparent to even the incompetents among us. It took the Oil Spill/Sestak/Arizona trifecta for her to poke her head out of a hole and decide to become relevant again by telling the truth. Quite frankly, when I see Peggy on panels now I see but a sliver of the woman she once was – which was an extremely honest, consistent writer and analyst.

  • Loudoun Insider says:

    Cato, in all reports I’ve heard so far, the plum offerred was a non-paid advisory commission appointment. That’s not earth shattering. And please no one try to pin me as an Obama maniac! He was way over-rated and is showing every day that he seems to be in over his head.

  • Frankly, this is just the monkeys trying to fornicate a football. The keystone cops had their shit together next to these F-ups. Old sayong is: “you can get by on looks for about 15 minutes. After that, you’d really better know something”.

  • Brian S says:

    LI, c’mon. What person in their right mind would give up a potential Senate bid for a non-paid Presidential advisory board that doesn’t matter? That makes no sense at all. There’s more to this, and I don’t buy for a second that it wasn’t the SecNav job that was leaked before.

  • G.Stone says:

    Noonan does not mention that she too was also one of those dupped by Hopey Changey. Now that he has proven himself to be the imcompetent we all knew he was she finally gets it. Hey Peggy where ya been ? Why did it take you 18 months ? This is what happens when certain conservatives are too smnart by half while on their way to mailbox looking for invitations to Georgetown cocktail parties.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “Cato, in all reports I’ve heard so far, the plum offerred was a non-paid advisory commission appointment”
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    Brian’s right – I heard the SecNav rumor as well, from more than one person.

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    So, a bunch of Republicant wingnuts out in the sticks of Loudoun County have the inside scoop of the goings on of a Democratic administration. Let me guess, the “from more than one person” you heard the rumor from were two wingnuts on Faux News?

  • Elder Berry says:

    I get huge ironic satisfaction out of hearing/seeing all the “get your government out of my life in all ways forever” fanatics suddenly jumping up and down whining about how Obama and the feds should be on this BP problem like butter on toast. How can you, really, make a serious public argument on that issue with a straight face? As Obama stated at his press conference, they’ve been in on everything BP is doing, and they’ve had the Coast Guard on it from day one. BP lied, probably committed fraud, were negligent, maybe criminally negligent…this is what you can expect from corporations that are insufficiently regulated. Think of that next time you gripe about excessive government regulations. Think of Cheney’s secret petroleum meeting. This spill is the Bush-Cheney legacy in action.

    As for most of the rest of your list of ways on which this administration is incompetent, it seems to me you mainly have policy disagreements. It’s not that he’s done nothing, it’s that you don’t like what he’s done.

    I’m as critical of incompetence as the next one, but this is a trumped up argument that falls completely flat.

    And as for Sestak, etc, that is no big deal and it is politics as usual. Candidates, potential candidates, and officeseekers get offered administration jobs all the time in every administration. Making it attractive for someone to drop out is NOT a crime, barely even rouses an ethical twinge.

  • pgreer says:

    “this is what you can expect from corporations that are insufficiently regulated.”
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    No this is what you get when regulators don’t do their job and regulate. I don’t care how many regulations you write. They are not worth the paper they are written on if they are not enforced. It is regulation agencys like Min. Mgmt. that make it hard for people to put their trust in the government.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    I’ve been doing my Saturday morning reading from the bottom up and commented on LI’s post about the Gulf spill before getting to this one.

    I actually think the federal response has been pretty capable. That things aren’t going as well as everyone wants has nothing to do with who is in the White House or who is sitting where at the Department of the Interior. The White House is compounding the problem by being uncomfortable with Katrina comparisons and, consequently, pushing the President forward more than a president should be pushed forward in a response effort like this. They should have the confidence to stick with the reality of the situation – the response is proceeding as intended, with the burden fairly placed on the polluter. A unified command structure is ensuring that the response is being conducted as effectively as possible, with government oversight from the Coast Guard, but technical expertise from the industry. Neither industry nor the government has any interest in the release of oil lasting and longer than it minimally has to. Once they get the well contained, all other issues can be addressed. Without it contained, nothing else much matters.

    The White House handlers are Katrina-reacting their man into his own Katrina problem. They are more sensitive than they should be to this because some of them were in the thick of bush-whacking Bush II on Katrina, and they assume that turnabout is to be expected.

    The real problem is the size, duration and location of the spill. There has been virtually no advance in response technology since EXXON VALDEZ, two decades ago.

  • Loudoun Insider says:

    Or since the Mexican underwater blow-out of 1979, including the failure of a tophat device to control the spill.
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    Big question – is the federal bureaucracy simply too big and too entrenched to ever be substantively changed by ANY President??? I’m starting to believe that it is. Nothing will ever really change until we have wholesale reform throughout.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    LI, Isn’t that what Obama promised – “to fundamentally transform this country”?? He sold himself as a reformer and he is a leftist transformer. It’s pretty sick that certain media folk, like Noonan and David Brooks, got sucked into this whole charade – but what truly bothers me is the systematic degradation of those that saw this coming a mile away.
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    People in our own party have been lending lip-service to the media trashing of concerned citizens, portraying us as dangerous and threatening. The truth is – citizens coming to the realization that we have Statists running this country is dangerous, specifically to those Statists. Look for some violent retorts from the administration on the “new” MSM criticisms and watch the MSM fall back in line. It’s truly worrisome but-oh-so predictable.

  • Brian S says:

    Elder, you’re missing the point. It is a fundamental underlying principle of Obama’s governing philosophy that government should play a larger role in the lives of individuals, because government is a force for good. Thus, there should be no worries when government steps in to run health care, or provide jobs through the stimulus, and we should be happy to pay more in taxes because we get more out of the government when we do.
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    What I am arguing, and what other small/smarter government conservatives like myself are arguing is that this underlying philosophy is fundamentally flawed, and this crisis demonstrates that. If Obama’s theory is right, the government should be leading the response to this crisis and should be telling BP to stay out of their way as they fix BP’s problem and then send them the bill. That isn’t happening. Obama has even admitted that the federal government couldn’t solve this problem on its own. That had to be galling to him. There’s nothing ironic than having what small government conservatives have been saying all along vindicated in such a public way. It’s just unfortunate that so many will have to pay the price for it.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    The legal regime governing these responses dictates that the Responsible Party (in this case BP) has the lead unless the federal government decides to federalize the response. The assumption behind the law is that the rig or vessel owner is in a better position than the government, and should have the responsibility for, the clean-up. The Obama Administration is responding to this exactly the way the McCain Administration, or the Rand Paul Administration would respond (perhaps less the “boot on the neck of BP” theatrical comment from Sec. Salazar). There isn’t any big government, small government lesson here.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “federal bureaucracy simply too big and too entrenched to ever be substantively changed by ANY President??? I’m starting to believe that it is. ”
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    100% in your camp on this one, doesn’t matter who happens to be in the top job.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    Disagree with Cato and LI, Someone with political will could reform the federal bureacracy. That someone would have to be assisted by like minded people in congress, it can’t be done alone. To make the statement that it can’t be done is a form of surrender. Why the hell are we surrendering to leftists in both parties? I don’t care if the odds are a million to one – the people must educate themselves, be ready to do without the gov’t goodies and elect freedom loving patriots to perform the necessary reforms. Without the willpower of the people, I’m afraid the odds are even longer.

  • Brian S says:

    NS, you’re still missing my point on the small/big government issue. My point is that Obama believes that big government is the answer. This issue demonstrates that no matter how big government gets, it is not always going to be able to solve these kinds of crises. The difference between Obama and McCain or Rand Paul is that neither McCain or Paul would be spending all their time trying to convince the American people to let government solve all their problems. Even if Obama is doing every right, if the well is not capped, his own campaign rhetoric is going to sink him.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “Someone with political will could reform the federal bureacracy”
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    It’s not like I don’t want to believe this, but I see no one on the horizon with the kind of sand to get this done. Reagan was the last dude to make a serious effort, and he increased the fed payroll by 61K, bailed out Social Security, raised taxes four times after seeing the deficit baloon and increased the EITC which is basically a wage subsidy. My point is, things look different from inside the belly of the beast.
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    “elect freedom loving patriots”
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    Where are these angels of whom you speak? Color me cynical but I think it’s going to take a catastrophic event on the scale of the Great Depression or worse to force us to clean up our act, and the sooner the better in my opinion. Generally speaking, people don’t change until they’re forced to by exigent circumstances.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    “elect freedom loving patriots”
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    Where are these angels of whom you speak? Color me cynical but I think it’s going to take a catastrophic event on the scale of the Great Depression or worse to force us to clean up our act, and the sooner the better in my opinion. Generally speaking, people don’t change until they’re forced to by exigent circumstances.

    Cato, I didn’t say there were angels lining up for this job, hell I laid out a million to one odds as a possibility. Event (such as a great depression) or not, if we don’t “reform” or “change” we will cease to exist. I merely pointed out that without a willing citizenry and people of political will in congress and as President all in tandem – the chances are slimmer. You and LI sounded as if you were throwing in the towel – and I don’t necessarily disagree that an event would have to occur. The biggest issue is re-educating the masses and weaning ourselves off the welfare state as it exists – no small task. I minimize nothing.

  • If you need Bill to pitch it, it ain’t a non-paid advisory roll.
    If it’s big enough bait to pull Sestak away from the Senate gig…. it ain’t a non-paid advisory roll- and it never was.
    If it took three months of lying and dragging feet to determine what the straight story from both parties was going to be….it ain’t a non-paid advisory roll.

    This Admin just admitted that they performed a marvelous FELONY…and no one even had to nterview them yet to get that part.

    The end.

  • John Millhiser says:

    LL is correct it does take people of will and great leadership, but to Cato’s point, that alone once in Washington will probably not happen. The personnel that you work with and socialize with are all part of the paid staff. Not likely they will push to cutback their own postions/power. I think it can only happen when a substantial media and grassroot independent push gets behind the idea of a strong private capitalists society will these “angels” be able to shepherd the turnaround. Let’s do look for the angels now and push our media toward recognition of the destruction of a way of life that is upon us.

  • TomPaine3 says:

    Teabagger paranoia knows no extremes!

    The Secretary Navy job was already filled when hamhanded Rahm pushed Clinton to talk with Sestak. But never fear, with you guys, Newt, Dangerous Dan Burton and his watermeon shooting,et al. you will continue to gin up new hypotheticals. Republicans have been corrupt so long, you just naturally assume that everyone else is as unethical and corrupt as yourselves.

  • G.Stone says:

    ”And it’s about time. It’s taken the media over a year to get over their honeymoon with the President,……. ”

    honeymoon ? How about slobbering love affair. How about acting as his press office. How about intellectually bankrupt apologists. How about like minded zombie followers.

  • HisRoc says:

    Brian,
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    There is no question that Obama has made some serious missteps in his first 16 months in office, so far rivaling both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton for false starts (although Clinton managed to get his act together after the Gingrich take-over). And what is even more worrisome is all the campaign promises he made to change Washington that seem to have gone by the wayside. This speaks volumes to the discussion, above, as to whether or not any president can meaningfully alter the Federal bureaucracy. However, Obama promised to do it and was elected on that promise. But, I would never cite Sham Hannity as the authority on Obama’s mistakes of omission and commission. He has no more credibility than Keith OlberHam or Rachel MadCow with moderate voters.

  • Brian S says:

    HisRoc, my comment about Hannity was actually meant as a dig. His show is hard to listen to, but he always manages in the 10 minutes I can listen to go through a litany of things he doesn’t like that Obama has done. It’s repetitive and boring.

  • HisRoc says:

    Brian,
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    Got it. I’m sorry that I was too dense to get the subtlety of your jab. But, this restores by faith in your outlook.
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    Peace, friend.

  • HisRoc says:

    This blog needs a “preview” function. I meant to say ‘my faith.’

  • edmundburkenator says:

    Noonan is trying stay relevant to morons.
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    “For Noonan, the American public is concerned only with spending, illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to stop an oil leak. For Noonan, the steepest downturn since the 1930s never happened. For Noonan, the flaws of the healthcare system – like, er, millions have none – do not exist. For Noonan, the massive debt – almost all of which Obama either inherited or built in the emergency attempt to stabilize a global economy heading into an abyss – is evidence that government does not work and that Obama is incompetent. For Noonan, actual difficult practical tasks most adults understand are complex to grapple with – how to prevent a Second Great Depression, how to police thousands of miles of border, how to stop an oil leak deep in the ocean floor – are easy. Just do it. Or be labeled incompetent and doomed.”
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    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/05/noonan-unhinged.html

  • Gretchen Laskas says:

    There is also the possibility that no job was ever offered at all, but because Sestak said there was (in part to show how separate he is from the administration in an anti-incumbent year) the White House is now put into the complicated position of either crafting some semi-plausible (and legal) story months later, or admitting that they did absolutely nothing wrong, but the Dem candidate for the Senate in PA lied.

    And as a Dem, I don’t believe that government is the answer to all problems. I’m well aware that government can fail it’s citizenry in many ways. But I’ve also seen, from the most personal story to the most bureaucratic levels, government making a real and positive difference in American’s lives. I don’t say that it is the only or best solution, but simply branding it as the problem and NEVER part of the solution is where you’ve list me.

  • HisRoc….. In order to recognise the level of screw-up on this administration, visualize Jimma Carter unleashing the ill-fated “Rescue” mission to Tehran by a factor of twenty.

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