Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Governing: It's Harder Than It Looks

Barack Obama’s first month as president hasn’t really been terribly successful. Too many of his Cabinet appointments have been forced to withdraw (Chas Freeman is the latest example. And yes, I’m aware that he wasn’t technically a Cabinet pick—he was set to head the National Intelligence Council). His stimulus package passed, but not without controversy and staunch Republican opposition, and it and the recently passed stimulus bill were full of blatant pork projects. And his overall approval has dropped—as low as 56%, according to one Rasmussen poll, which isn’t particularly strong considering that Obama is still in what should be his honeymoon period.

Camile Paglia thinks she knows where to lay the blame.

[F]ree the president from his flacks, fixers and goons -- his posse of smirky smart alecks and provincial rubes, who were shrewd enough to beat the slow, pompous Clintons in the mano-a-mano primaries but who seem like dazed lost lambs in the brave new world of federal legislation and global statesmanship.

I think (though I’m not good at predictions; last year, I was convinced that we would see a Hillary-Romney presidential matchup) that more and more liberals will latch on to her explanation if (when?) Obama’s policies are proven ineffective.

Basically, Paglia is arguing that Obama has been undone by corrupt, incompetent advisors, that he has been “ill-served by his advisors and staff.” She think that if it were not for the “dazed lost lambs” surrounding him, Obama would be much more effective.

She’s probably right. But what did she expect? Obama came into the presidency without a shred of executive experience, or even much time in the Senate. Ideas alone aren’t enough to make a good president—one must also have the ability to delegate effectively.

While the presidential campaign is underway, there is an odd sort of assumption that the winner will have dictatorial powers, and the ability to get done whatever he pleases. (Particularly in Obama’s case, where his party also controlled both Houses of Congress).

But, of course, the reality is very different. The presidency is a massively complicated and difficult job. It’s impossible for one man to manage everything, or even to oversee everything. That’s why executive experience is such an important attribute in a president—delegation is a very difficult skill to learn.

Assume that Obama is a real visionary politician whose policies represent what it necessary to move the country forward. (They aren’t, but just assume here). All that knowledge is useless without the ability to implement it. And the skills necessary to advance policy are very different from those required to formulate policy. Obama is very good at the latter; so far, he has not been very good at the former.

The most successful presidents have also been the best at delegating. Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln were both very good at getting their goals accomplished. Both were also excellent delegators, very skilled at getting the best from their advisors. (Though oddly enough, neither man’s Cabinet was particularly well-organized—Reagan’s Cabinet was plagued with petty feuds and animosities, and Lincoln’s Cabinet was disorganized and discordant. Apparently, it’s not necessary to have a unified Cabinet—only an efficient one). Obama, so far, hasn’t exhibited that ability.

Of course, another ability shared by great presidents is the ability to adapt, and improve. Lincoln was forced to become a military strategist during the Civil War. Franklin D. Roosevelt had to fight both the Great Depression, and then World War II. (One of those battles was more successful than the other). Perhaps Obama will adjust as well, and improve his management skills. But for the present, his administration is far from the well-oiled, ready-to-go-on-day-one machine Obama hoped it would be.


At March 12, 2009 at 6:02 AM , Blogger David#999 said...

You said that " Governing: It's Harder Than It Looks"
Barack Obama’s first month as president hasn’t really been terribly successful."

"hasn’t really been terribly successful." You are being very generous! Are you kidding? It has FAILED miserably, he has caused more dissent in America in 2 months than I have ever seen.

I'm beginning to think that maybe Beth was right when she said:
"Maybe you need another break from blogging my friend, you seem to have a great need of being apologetic of the Obama administration."
We are seeing this administration demonize bankers, plan new taxes for domestic energy producers, bail out irresponsible borrowers and lenders, make it harder (with "cramdown") for responsible people to get mortgages, nationalize major companies that should fail, and bend over backwards for union bosses (with the Employee Free Choice Act). In less than 50 days, Obama has spent more than three times the cost of the entire Iraq War so far. This year, he will more than triple the largest deficit of the Bush era. And you so calmly say
" Governing: It's Harder Than It Looks"
If he can't take the heat then you know where he can go! He seems to enjoy the perks of the job don't he?

At March 12, 2009 at 1:40 PM , Anonymous Steve_b said...

I think you're being a bit hard on the blogger here. David said...

"Obama came into the presidency without a shred of executive experience, or even much time in the Senate. Ideas alone aren’t enough to make a good president—one must also have the ability to delegate effectively."

That is the key issue for me. McCain ran on experience (and so did Hilliary for that matter.) If we made it such a big deal in the election we need to criticize it now.

And I have to agree with this post. I actually think Obama is an intelligent guy- he just happens to have different ideas of what America should be than I do. But regardless of what he wants, he seems to be failing both the left and the right because he doesn't know how to actually accomplish things.

At March 12, 2009 at 8:51 PM , Blogger Beth said...

This posting is more critical of Obama than your previous posts Daniel, and it is a shame that too may voters didn't think experience mattered. But even if he delegated better, he'd still be pushing his uber-liberal policies, and whether he's doing it efficiently or not doesn't matter, he just needs to be stopped!

At March 13, 2009 at 6:38 AM , Blogger David#999 said...

I beg your pardon Beth, but I have ALWAYS been critical of Obama ..
Since day one.
One has to only look at my blog to see that.
Perhaps you have me confused with someone else.

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