Dies Horribiles

by Dave Schuler on May 22, 2014

For the last couple of days there’s been a covey of op-eds, editorials, and opinion pieces highly critical of the president from both friends and enemies. I was going to write a lengthy analytical post on the subject but I found that just too depressing so I’ll cut to the chase.

Every president wants to be judged based on the effort he puts in and his predecessor to be judged based on results. That was the whole thing behind that heckuva job, Brownie bit in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was judging by effort rather than by results.

I don’t honestly case how hard presidents work, how benign their intentions are, how awful the Congress is, what a mess his predecessor left him with, how uncooperative the Russians, Chinese, etc. are, or how hard it is for the president to do much about the economy, the climate, etc. I didn’t force anybody to run for president. Every president has sought the job.

Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Guarneri May 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

“Every president has sought the job. Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way.”

I believe I’ve been making this point for 5-6 years, and also that the current president is not capable of doing so. he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

In any event, no matter what you think about the merits of the serial “scandal” of the day, or the president, the standard drill has become laughingstock stuff:

1) I just found out…….
2) I’m hoppin’ mad…..(snicker)
3) Why, my entire presidency has been dedicated to…..
4) So I’m demanding a report…….and a big, thick report too!……..
5) And that report better be on my desk in 2, no, 1 month…or I’ll, well, I’ll be very disappointed…..
6) No. No one even close to the top will be held accountable because I’m sure its just some flunkies in, uh, you know, Cincinnati……
7) And let me tell you, when I get that report I’m gonna, uh, uh, hope the news cycle has moved on….
8) What’s that, Hillary? Oh, yeah. And at this point what does it matter anyway? Hey, that’s a good one. You’ve done this before, eh?
9) And now here is my press secretary to tell you how those warnings we were given about veterans? Well, we actually thought, son-of-a-gun, they were about old baseball players, see. But wouldn’t you know it…….

... May 22, 2014 at 9:43 am

Drew, at least it’s better than the early days of this Presidency when he’d bring in a conference hall of outside experts, speak at them, and then order them into breakout sessions to generate ideas. Leadership by management training conference. Ugh.

Michael Reynolds May 22, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I agree. No one forces anyone to serve as POTUS, they beg us for the job.

Drew I even agree with your snark list but where you lose all credibility is when you pretend this is unique to Obama. Show me a president in our lifetime who didn’t behave just the same.
You just suddenly discovered this six years ago? Were you in a coma for the preceding eight years?

By the way the same mentality pervades private industry as well. The blank cluelessness of many in publishing for example is amazing. I’ve spent 7 years trying to get them to look rationally at the institution of book tour where Uncle Rupert’s company makes a habit of spending a thousand bucks a day to have me sell half a dozen books per day. People forget their long term goal in trying to achieve short term objectives that contribute nothing to what we are supposed to be doing. Needless to say, obsessively reminding people to focus on the actual goal does not result in popularity.

Cstanley May 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Obama does seem to be taking this to a whole new level, particularly with the repeated, absurd claims that he is finding out about these problems from news sources. I don’t remember previous presidents using that as an excuse, probably beep cause it’s a boneheaded one. I can see maybe on one rare occasion, to state that subordinates had failed to keep him apprised (accompanied by some censure or potential firing of said subordinates) but to claim ignorance as much as Obama is very strange. It really feels as though he’s choosing the admission of incompetence as the lesser of two evils, the other being malfeasance.

Michael Reynolds May 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

You must have missed Ronald Reagan and the Iran-contra scandal. Or Bill Clinton’s interesting theories on sex. And George W’s entire term of office.

Cstanley May 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Iran Contra is probably the only if those in which the excuse of not knowing was used, but both the situation and the manner in which the excuse was employed were different. Obama is claiming ignorance about the ordinary business of government.

michael reynolds May 22, 2014 at 5:40 pm

George W. Bush still claims not to have known that he was sending Colin Powell to the UN with discredited intelligence. This is not only a claim of ignorance, it’s a lie, and a rather deadly one at that.

I was joking about Clinton, implying he didn’t know a bj was “sex.” Not a funny joke, but, hey, they can’t all be gems.

Ben Wolf May 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I don’t think Obama is really a President of the U.S. sort, any more than Bush, Clinton or Reagan were.

Obama is a corporate CEO, a schmoozer who shakes hands, talks up the stock price and goes home. I don’t think he’s particularly interested in governing so much as the payoff that’s coming after the gig is over. Almost every president during my lifetime has been the same sort.

michael reynolds May 22, 2014 at 5:59 pm

The broader issue to me is about presidents and others losing the thread of what they’re doing. I don’t think Mr. Obama ever cathected with his administrative role. I think he saw himself (as did Mr. Bush and Mr. Reagan but not Mr. Clinton or Bush the Elder) as an ideas guy: you set the agenda, you pick the guys you think will execute it, you stand back and it all happens. Reagan was helped by having Jim Baker and Nancy as co-presidents. Bush the Younger was hurt by having Cheney as his designated “grown up.”

I don’t think Obama has ever had a person in that role. He doesn’t seem to have a designated ass-kicker now that Rahm is gone, and Rahm Emanuel was less an overseer than an operator. Michelle Obama is not interested in playing Nancy Reagan or Hillary Clinton, which is a shame. It helps to have a wife who has the attributes you lack.

It’s interesting the degree to which personality forms history. It’s rare you get the person who can set an agenda and then strike the right managerial balance between micro-managing and hands off. I should probably read more about Ike’s presidency because as a general he was a lousy strategist but great at execution. Kind of like Bush the Elder – none of that “vision thing” but plenty of competence.

I get it because that’s my problem as well. I want to come up with ideas and then trust people to do what I’ve hired them to do, largely because the supervisory function is boring for me. I like the challenges, the crises, but I can’t stand the grind. So I push myself through my daily grind basically by turning it into a series of mini-crises.

Andy May 22, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I don’t know what the problem is, but I am tired of the excuses. Anyone paying attentions knows at least the basics of the bureaucratic problems with the federal government. Few of the problems are the VA are a surprise yet the political leadership acts as if it were clueless.

The sad reality is that politicians can over promise and under-deliver and suffer few real consequences….which means there is no real incentive for them to do the dirty work necessary for real reform that would fix real problems instead of political problems, despite all the promises.

steve May 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm

The VA has been a problem forever, but only in some ways. Its actual delivery of care is pretty good. The current scandal is an ongoing on for tens of years. Note that most of the backlog is over Viet Nam era eligibilities. The part that I have yet see addressed in any article, though I havent been reading many as things are busy, is that it is just assumed all these people are eligible. If you ever had anything to do with the military disability system, as a corpsman you got to see a bit of this stuff, it is pretty clear that a lot of these vets are trying to scam the system. The same guys who showed up at sick call every day with back pain trying to get out of work are continuing those efforts. Evaluating those guys seems like a tough and pretty thankless job.

What is new is that at least it is being acknowledged and efforts made. After years of trying to duck Agent Orange, those vets exposed are now eligible. Of course, you can bet a lot of unexposed people will be claiming exposure.

Steve

steve May 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Just read James on this. Think he gets it about right. Also, if you read the comments, I had no idea that they made benefits concurrent with disability payments starting in 2004. No wonder so many vets are applying.

Steve

steve May 23, 2014 at 7:37 am

Details on concurrent retirement/disability.

http://www.cbo.gov/budget-options/2013/44744

Steve

Cstanley May 23, 2014 at 7:49 am

All of the current commentary about the longstanding nature of problems at the VA is appropriate, and it’s true that Obama is the one stuck holding the bag. It’s also appropriate though for conservatives to point out that problems inherent in the system (and the bureaucratic nightmare of solving them) don’t bode well for nationalized healthcare. The criticism applies more so to a theoretical single payer system, but still translates somewhat to ACA- especially as it relates to backlogs due to large influxes of claims.

So for those who defend Obama by pointing out his well-intentioned easing of criteria for veterans’ claims, at some point you have to recognize that intentions are not enough without any attention to execution of a plan to expand capacity.

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