The Corner

Obama, the Manager

I recently had a small piece in the magazine where I made the point — now fairly commonplace — that Obama’s campaign was much better at running web operations than the Obama administration is.  I wrote of Obama’s invocation of Apple’s “glitchy” roll out of the new iPhone:

People have had a lot of fun with this low-gear spin. Apple doesn’t force you to pay a fine if you don’t buy an iPhone. If the late Steve Jobs had handled the rollout of its most important product in a generation this badly, he’d probably have been looking for a new job. The “glitch” in the iPhone operating system didn’t stop people from being able to use the product, and it was seamlessly fixed after a few days. The “glitches” are in fact structural defects that may take weeks or months to repair. Apple doesn’t use tax dollars . . .

Oh, you get it. You could go on all day pointing out flaws in the president’s analogy because, well, it’s not a very good analogy.

A better, more illuminating comparison is between the Obama campaign’s technological brilliance and the Obama administration’s thumbless grasp of very similar technology. It’s a time-honored observation by pols and pundits to note that there’s a difference between campaigning and governing. “You campaign in poetry,” Mario Cuomo famously observed, and “you govern in prose.”

I think it’s fair to say that no president has been more confused on this basic point than Barack Obama. In fairness, the distinction between campaigning and governing has been getting blurrier for decades, but Obama has taken things to a whole new level. He eschews much of the nitty-gritty detail work of politics, preferring to give big speeches to friendly crowds. He even turned his presidential-campaign apparatus into a permanent independent political army to pressure the political world from outside the traditional two-party system.

And, so far, it’s failed. Organizing for America pulled out all the stops on gun control. They couldn’t even achieve Obama’s fairly humble goal of getting a vote in Congress — they didn’t even aim for a legislative win, just a vote. OFA has also worked tirelessly in the effort to get young people to sign up for Obamacare (the system will go into an actuarial death spiral if the young and healthy don’t buy more insurance than they need or want). It’s impossible to know exactly how that’s going, since the enrollment process has gone about as smoothly as a Miley Cyrus performance at the Vatican. But there are good reasons to believe that getting young people to vote as a feel-good exercise is a lot easier than getting them to write a check for insurance products.

Anyway, after watching Obama’s campaign-style event today, I figured I should go back and look at what he touted as his chief-executive experience in 2008. Transcript via HotAir:

Anderson Cooper: Some Republican critics say, you don’t have the experience to handle a situation like this [Hurricane Gustav]. They’ve in fact said that Governor Palin has more executive experience as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state like Alaska. What’s your response?

Barack Obama: Well, you know, my understanding is that, uh, Governor Palin’s town of Wasilly [sic] has, uh, 50 employees, uh, uh, we’ve got 2500, uh, in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. Uh, uh, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. Uh, so I think that, uh, our ability to manage large systems, uh, and to, uh, execute, uh, I think has been made clear over the last couple of years. Uh, and certainly, in terms of, uh, the legislation that I’ve passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina, uh, of how we handle emergency management. The fact that, uh, many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place, uh, as we speak indicates to extent to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.

Ed Morrissey goes on to note that making recommendations is in no way synonymous with managing anything. President Obama has been learning that lesson on the job.


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