The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Presidency Isn’t Really Focused on Governing

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Ultimately, the Obama Presidency Isn’t Really About Governing.

Obamacare’s implementation is a “train wreck,” in the words of retiring Montana Democratic senator Max Baucus.

The president’s gun-control proposals are rejected, because he can’t persuade red-state senators in either party that they would really be of any use in preventing gun violence.

The great news is that the Boston bombers were killed and apprehended quickly, but Boston’s ordeal left serious questions about the government’s ability to keep an eye on those deemed dangerous, and how carefully it scrutinizes those who seek to become American citizens.

Time magazine’s Joe Klein gave conservatives an “Alleluia” moment a few weeks ago. The Obama administration announced that the “exchanges” designed to help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees won’t be ready by the promised deadline. Instead of having multiple health-insurance plans, with differing prices, to offer to their employees, small businesses will be able to pick . . . one plan. Pointing to this and the inability the of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to come up with a unified electronic health-care-records system, Klein lamented, “we are now seeing weekly examples of this administration’s inability to govern.”

Klein’s dark assessment is probably driven by all of the other promises about Obamacare that have been left in the dust.

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” . . . except for the 7 million people who will lose their coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Your premiums will go down . . .” except that premiums have gone up in the past years, with more hikes projected.

And let’s not forget one of then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promises, that Obamacare would “create 400,000 jobs almost immediately” and eventually 4 million jobs.

Klein writes, “as a Democrat — as someone who believes in activist government — [Obama] has a vested interest in seeing that federal programs actually work efficiently. I don’t see much evidence that this is anywhere near the top of his priorities.”

At moments like this, conservatives feel an enormous temptation to snicker, “Welcome to the party, pal!” But brutally honest assessments like this one from Klein ought to be applauded on the right. One of the reasons the era of Big Government never really ended is because many of its usual fans on the left avert their eyes when it fails so badly. You can’t address a problem if you refuse to see a problem.

Unfortunately, there’s not much indication that Obama sees the problems and even less indication he wants to see them. The bold promise and the awful delivery have become the signature of this administration, extending well beyond the implementation of health care.

Elsewhere in his column, Klein writes, “faced a terrible economic crisis — and he has done well to limit the damage.”

The damage is limited . . . except for the fact that more Americans are living in poverty than when Obama took office. And our workforce participation rate is now the lowest since 1979. And the number of Americans on food stamps is at an all-time high. And the nearly 5 million long-term unemployed have defined life since autumn 2008 as an era of barely scraping by, month after month, year after year..

Of course, the “shovel-ready jobs” of the stimulus didn’t really live up to the promises, as Obama himself admitted.

And the web site meant to detail how every dime of stimulus spending ended up full of bad data and nonexistent congressional districts.

And as of June 2012, three and a half years after the stimulus passed, nearly $8 billion was still waiting to be awarded or sitting in agency accounts.

And the entire green-jobs initiative clearly hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, including the president’s infamous pledge that “companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” Now another one of the administration’s high-profile loan recipients, Fisker Automotive, is contemplating bankruptcy; the company hasn’t built a car since July.

Tuesday we learned, “Taxpayer-backed funds kept flowing to electric carmaker Fisker Automotive months after the company failed to meet key production benchmarks, lawmakers said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.”

All of these problems in the stimulus and the administration’s overall economic policies fit in a pattern, don’t they? Klein’s creeping sense that making sure “federal programs actually work efficiently” isn’t really an administration priority?

Time and again, we hear anecdotes of the president angered, befuddled, and frustrated that the policies implemented in the beginning of his presidency, with a compliant Congress, haven’t generated the results he promised. But very little seems to change, other than a bit of fuming at aides behind closed doors.

President Obama was surprised to learn, in discussions with economic adviser Christina Romer, that large-scale investment in infrastructure and clean-energy projects wouldn’t create enormous numbers of new jobs.

In a December 2010 meeting with economic advisers, he “boiled over” with frustration that his housing policies hadn’t helped struggling homeowners like he promised.

When federal program after federal program fails to generate the desired result, it’s not crazy talk to become at least a little skeptical of the latest pledges and promises and idealistic visions.

But Democrats often speak as if the Right’s skepticism of the government’s problem-solving ability is driven by some sort of abstract ideological theory. It’s not. It’s usually built upon hard experiences. Human behavior isn’t predictable, particularly their interactions with the government. Unintended consequences pile up like a car crash. The pattern is depressingly predictable: Someone in government comes up with some laudable goal, and announces some new program. After the press conference, when the cameras and microphones are away, implementing the idea proves more complicated than the press-conference announcement made it seem. Deadlines get missed. Costs turn out much higher than expected. Bureaucratic inertia begins to exert the gravitational pull of a black hole.

Perhaps it is the nature of the modern presidency for the occupant of the Oval Office to glide from photo-op to photo-op, and never spend too much time getting entangled in the messy work of actually making his policies live up to his promises. Certainly that’s the pattern for this president; even in this non-campaign year, the schedule is heavy with a campaign-style rally on gun-control initiatives here, a DCCC fundraiser there, then off to a tour of a national laboratory. He flits from issue to issue; to judge from his remarks and his schedule, the health-care issue is resolved and our health-care system’s problems are fixed. Maybe White House press secretary Jay Carney will get a question about the health-care exchanges or electronic health-care-records system, which he’ll defuse with another defensive, meandering word salad.

Implementing Obamacare? Hey, that’s for somebody else to worry about.

In over his head?

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