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.