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Why Would Anyone Have Expected Competence?

Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal, “He Was Supposed to be Competent,” has gotten quite a bit of attention. Noonan renders a harsh verdict on President Obama:

I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office. And they were all, as they say, unforced errors, meaning they were shaped by the president’s political judgment and instincts. …
[Hurricane] Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn’t like about the Bush administration…. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point–they know it without being told–but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush’s incompetence and conservatives’ failure to “believe in government.” But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

What is curious is that quite a few people did think that Obama would be an especially competent president. Why? What evidence was there that Obama would be a skillful administrator? Before becoming president, he had never in his life run anything more substantial than a Senate staff. His executive experience was closer to zero than that of any president in memory.
Being a good executive requires great skill. Moreover, it is not the sort of skill that anyone is born with. It takes experience to learn how to run things, to administer things, to manage things. And people. Obama has no such experience, and is therefore learning on the job. Before becoming president, he was best known for giving speeches that were often disconnected from reality. Why would anyone interpret this skill as the sign of a competent administrator?
I don’t know. All I can say is, no one should be surprised at the mess that is the Obama administration.
PAUL adds: I doubt that liberals thought, in Noonan’s words, that “Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush’s incompetence and conservatives’ failure to believe in government.” I think they saw an opportunity to beat Bush up and took it. Now Republicans are using the same stick to beat Obama up.
This is part of a depressingly familiar phenomenon — the politicization by Democrats of everything, with the Republicans (reasonably enough) following suit. We saw it with judicial nominees, to cite one example, and now we’re seeing it with natural disasters.

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