Sunday, September 26, 2010

Incompetence is a Political Risk

One of the gifts that President Bush gave President Obama is that he made incompetence a political risk.  Simply because President Obama avoids terms like “strategery” and “lock box” does not put him in a position where he can avoid looking incompetent.

To solve a problem, President Obama likes to get the best minds in the country in one room and select the policy that represents a consensus.  He does not necessarily know the subject matter at hand, but if everyone else in the room agrees, it must be right.  Right?  Wrong!  A President must know the subject matter enough to recognize bad alternatives and get them out of the room.  If he doesn’t do it, know one will.  Those smart people are afraid of speaking truth to power and will not speak up.  The result will be bad policy.

If, as the previous post suggests, that some basic college level education would help, especially in economics, then the President would have known that short term tax cuts have limited usefulness.  Even his predecessor had a tax rebate in his final year and it benefited the economy for only two quarters.  We all should have learned from that.  He would have also known that fiscal stimulus projects of two to three years in length severely dilute the impact needed today to reduce unemployment.  Even people on the street would have told him that incentives for home and car purchases merely move demand up in time, but don’t really create additional demand, which explains why home and car sales are down now that those rebates are over. 

A basic course in project management would have helped the President in the gulf oil spill.  It would have told him to identify all his potential solutions on day one of the crisis, and crash, or expedite, them all.  Instead, he took them one at a time, including the berm designed to protect the wetlands.  I am quite sure that some of the President’s competition in 2012 will point out lots of ways for him to have shortened the 80 days it took him to stop the leak.  

I have spent my life around some of the most brilliant and overeducated minds in a host of industries and some of them could not lead you to a restroom.   Yes, they could after studying the matter, but many of them are so consumed with their own thoughts that they fail to notice where the restrooms are when the walk through the building.  They are often arrogant and self-absorbed to the point that they fail to listen and understand the self-interests of those who are affected by the policies they create.  Now that I possibly alienated some of my friends, I lay myself open for the same criticism.

There is a political risk brewing for the President in health care.  There is a case that is moving up to the Supreme Court that seeks to declare the new health care law unconstitutional on two grounds, namely that it violates the commerce and taxation clauses of the Constitution.  The health care law has a provision in it that says if the Court voids any part of the law, the entire law will be voided.  This is unusual, and if voided, as some predict, it will bring questions of to why the President took more than a year to put our country through the national exercise of adopting this law during a severe economic recession, and the law was not even competently constructed?

Now I have to find a restroom.

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