My friend Ray Hartwell, writing in the Washington Times, expands his thesis that, contrary to what many conservative pundits are saying, President Obama is not incompetent. Rather, says Ray, Obama is “scary competent.”
In my view, Obama’s competence should be measured not solely by what he has accomplished — which, as Ray shows, is far from inconsiderable — but also by what a president with the same ideology and the same working margins in Congress could be expected to accomplish.
By this measure, I would rate Obama as middling competent. A less competent (or less determined and opportunistic) president would not have achieved as much as Obama has. For example, an equally left-wing president might have backed away from pushing radical health care reform through Congress as opposition swelled and/or might not have successfully rallied the troops after Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.
Obama’s willingness to burn political capital to achieve his ideological goals has been, as Ray says, audacious. It has made him an effective president to date, but puts at risk his ability to remain effective. Time will reveal whether this trade-off was a wise one.
However, we can already say that Obama has lost some of his political capital through self-inflicted wounds that had nothing to do with implementing unpopular programs and decisions. He has done this through a series of tone-deaf pronouncements on issues about which he need not have opined. The latest example is, of course, the Ground Zero Mosque. In addition, Obama’s failure timely to engage certain issues the public expected him to be on top of — for example, the BP oil spill and the Christmas day bomber — has cost him political capital without bringing him any benefit.
A more competent president could have traded popularity for programs without losing as much popularity, at least at the margin, as Obama has. I think this is a good part of what critics have in mind when they question his competence.
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