Obama and Managerial Competence

Hilzoy did a lot of my anti-Obama work for me by approvingly listing the pieces of legislation he’d helped craft in his first two years in the Senate. He’s done work on securing loose Russian nukes, fighting bird flu, quality control for genetic testing, lobbying reform, raising CAFE standards, and banning no-bid contracts for FEMA.

She characterizes these issues as, “The wonky legislation that I love.” Wonky legislation is good insofar as it pegs the legislator as a competent technocrat who will make the trains run on time. Unfortunately, since nobody in the US rides trains outside the solidly Democratic Northeast Corridor, this approach isn’t worth much when it comes to winning elections, to say nothing of being a good President.

A lot of people are going on about how Obama has not sponsored legislation on any of the Vital Issues Of The Day. Personally, I think that he’d have to be delusional to introduce, say, his own solution to the health insurance crisis: no bill on such a topic introduced by a freshman senator from the minority party would have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, and the only reason to introduce one would be to grandstand. For that reason, I think that his failure to do so tends to speak well of him.

(Besides, consider how many Senators must have been watching for any hint of self-importance when Obama arrived in the Senate, given the press he had coming in; how many of them would have had to have been waiting for any sign that he was thinking: here am I, the wondrous Barack Obama, ready to set the Senate straight! The fact that he seems to have disarmed most of them is, I think, an achievement in its own right; it would have been impossible had he introduced his own comprehensive anti-poverty program, or something.)

The only thing that indicates is that inexperienced people should not run for President. If Obama can’t be bothered to write legislation on an issue that requires making a stand, it’s always a strike against him. It’s not so much the initiative that counts as the showing signs of caring on an issue that polls at less than 70%. I know of exactly one important piece of legislation Feingold crafted – the State-Based Health Care Reform Act. That’s not why I was enthusiastic about his potential candidacy; that honor belongs to his dissenting vote on the Patriot Act.

The fact that so many of those competence based bills are bipartisan should suggest that picking a candidate based on them is futile. McCain is as capable of making trains run on time as any Democrat. If liberals oppose him but support Obama, they’re nothing but partisan hacks who’ll vote for any demagogue with a D next to his name.

Incidentally, the same competence based approach is becoming more and more party dogma. The last piece of mail I’ve received from the Democratic Party asked me to rank the most important national issues, in a closed survey where the choices are,

Strengthening Social Security

Expanding the middle class and making it more prosperous

Lowering sky high gas prices and reducing dependence on foreign oil

Resolving the Iraq War

Making quality health care more affordable

Protecting the U.S. from terrorism

Preserving our environment

Note to the Democratic Party: you have a significant contingent of voters whose number one concern is keeping abortion legal, making sure gays have the same rights as straights, or offering illegal immigrants legal status. Women and minorities are floating your coalition; white men voted Republican 53-44 in 2006, and white, straight, Christian men voted Republican in even greater numbers. Apart from that, you also sit on a large number of voters who would appreciate it if you mentioned something about restoring habeas corpus.

7 Responses to Obama and Managerial Competence

  1. SLC says:

    Mr. Levy demonstrates his total ignorance of how the US Senate operates. The Senate is much like a gentlemans club, where the freshman members had best be seen but not heard, if they wish to be effective. Freshman Senators who do not follow the unwritten rules generally turn out to be ineffective. Senator Clinton took that tack during her first two years, co-sponsoring legislation with Republican Senators. She generally got high marks for this approach from fellow Senators and Congressional aids. It appears that Senator Obama has taken the same approach, which is the way to be effective.

    I do agree with Mr. Levy, however, that Senator Obama is probably too inexperienced after only 2 years in the Senate to occupy the oval office. Although it is true that Abraham Lincoln was even more inexperienced, never having served in Washington or as a Governor of Illinois, conditions were far less complicated 146 years ago, particularly as the US was not a force in world affairs at the time. The fumbling of the inexperienced Carter and Dubya strongly suggest that a more experienced head is required.

  2. whig says:

    I think it is a mistake to judge Barack Obama on his age and relative inexperience. Alon himself has made a point that he dislikes being judged too young.

    Has Barack made mistakes? Undoubtedly, and I think he would admit them. Unlike the current resident of the oval office, by the way.

    What kind of alternative do you have to Barack?

    My question is this — do you think Barack Obama has personal integrity and do you think he is humanitarian? My answer is yes and yes.

  3. gordo says:

    My main problem with inexperienced candidates is that it’s hard to know which way they’ll go on the issues. A candidate can say whatever he wants during the campaign. Even if he means what he says, though, governing is a whole different ballgame.

    For example, Clinton’s plan to integrate gays into the military was derailed right away. Many thought that he would have to choose between that and his economic program, because a lot of influential Democratic senators were dead set against integration. Clinton resolved the matter just as anyone who’d followed his career would expect: by crafting a “compromise” that amounted to giving in.

    How would Obama react? It’s hard to say. But It would be nice to see him stick his neck out a little on the issues, though, so that we could get a better idea.

    Still, I would support him over most of his potential rivals, because I know that they woud give in to the demogogues. For example, I can’t think of a single principle that Clinton believes in deeply enough that she wouldn’t cast it aside for political advantage.

  4. whig says:

    Gordo, I don’t know what the issues will be four years down the road, do you? Maybe we have things to deal with that we wouldn’t imagine now. So if you want to know how a candidate will do on the issues, you are asking to predict the future.

    I guess what I want to know is how he would handle a crisis.

  5. whig says:

    By the way, I said four years and meant that, because even though the election is in two years whoever is elected would be in the middle of his or her first term then.

  6. gordo says:


    Actually, I do know what some of the issues will be 4 years from now:

    National Security
    Health Care
    Economic Growth
    Government Spending
    Civil Rights

    There are other predictable issues. My point is that the list doesn’t change substantially from year to year. The issues that are meant to distract us, like the War on Christmas or Video Game Violence, seem to change weekly. But frankly, I don’t much care what my candidate for president thinks of the latest gangsta rap song, or controversial TV drama.

  7. […] shtick is that he’ll make the trains run on time. Much as I appreciate being able to travel to Philly with relatively few delays, it’s not my […]

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