The question many on the left are asking as they witness the Obama administration flail in response to Healthcare.gov’s debut disaster is: How could this happen? Obama is so brilliant, so capable, and so wise. How could he bungle his signature initiative?
Even if he were brilliant, capable, and wise (and he isn’t), it wouldn’t make a particle of difference. One of the central delusions of progressives is that government is efficient and effective and that complex human societies are amenable to centralized control and direction.
We on the right presume government ineptitude. The Washington Post reports today, for example, that the federal employee-retirement system paid more than $400 million in benefits over the past few years to deceased retirees. On the same page, we learn that despite the U.S. government’s $7 billion investment in combatting heroin cultivation in Afghanistan, the trade is booming. Last week, the Brookings Institution published a study suggesting that Cash for Clunkers was a failure, costing taxpayers $1.4 million for each of the 3,676 jobs created.
This is normal. There are commonsense reasons for it — explanations available to most students of Econ 101. Those spending other people’s money have very little incentive to economize or seek top value. Nor can central bureaucrats possibly have enough information to make wise decisions about something as complex as one-sixth of a $16 trillion economy. As Frederick von Hayek cautioned, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Discovering that government lacks competence in many areas is what caused a critical group of liberal intellectuals to become “neo-conservatives” in the 1970s and 1980s. Irving Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Novak, and others were not moved only by anti-Communism. They were first chastened by studying the failures of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
As for the other story of the past month, the media’s discovery that Mr. Obama is untruthful, we conservatives are patently unshocked.
Observing the Left’s confusion about the emperor’s lack of clothes is perhaps a clarifying moment. Liberal journalists who until now had covered for Barack Obama, rationalized his failures, explained away his misrepresentations, and believed in his integrity seem shaken. The “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” vow was so clearly a blatant lie that even the Praetorian Guard of White House correspondents is reporting on it accurately.
Since the armor now has sunlight streaming through it, perhaps the fifth estate will reexamine other pivotal moments of the Obama years girded with their newly acquired skepticism.
Start with Benghazi. 60 Minutes has revisited the story. It’s more than a year late, but come on in, the water’s fine. There were so many lies told about Benghazi that investigative reporters could be kept busy for years tracking them all. The president of the United States maintained for two weeks after the attack that he couldn’t possibly say whether it was terrorism or not, though the CIA acknowledged that it knew within hours that the attack was planned and coordinated. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton blamed the attack on an Internet video that “insulted the Prophet,” so as to avoid criticism for failing to provide security, and to prevent the press from interpreting the Benghazi attack as a refutation of Obama’s claim that al-Qaeda was essentially defeated. Those were not shadings of the truth or diplomatic doublespeak. They were lies.
The president also claimed that he ordered that everything possible be done to save the Americans who were under attack. Yet no one has ever seen such an order. The press hasn’t bothered to ask for evidence of it. Perhaps they trusted his word. Do they still? Are they not curious about why the administration did nothing to come to the aid of Americans under fire? Beyond the lies, that is a scandalous breach of trust, as is the president’s promise — uttered with campaign-inflected intensity — to find the people who killed four Americans, “because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.”
It’s been 14 months. Is this government incompetence or another lie? Perhaps now, finally, someone will ask.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.