Obama's Competence Gap

And finally on health care, we've been inundated with dog-and-pony displays and campaign-like events but haven't gotten to the heart of the matter: how to pay for it and how to allow Americans to keep their doctor and access to un-rationed care.   What's even more startling, as Yuval Levin points out, is the president's recognition that the endless cycle of spending and borrowing which his own administration has accelerated is "unsustainable":

If he understands the consequences of the federal government spending trillions it doesn't have with no plans for doing better, what does he make of his own budget, which calls for doing much more of precisely that? And what does he make of the health care plan emerging on the Hill, which would spend even more without paying for it and do very little about exploding health care costs except turn even more of them into government costs?

The president is fond of telling us that all the trade-offs which other administrations have made and which his political rivals wrestled with were "false." But the essence of governing is choosing wisely, something he has struggled to do.

In some cases (e.g., detainee photos) the administration has been badgered into adjusting course and dropping silly campaign promises in order to maintain a coherent national security policy. In other cases (e.g., Guantanamo) they are tied up in knots figuring out how to reconcile their sanctimonious rhetoric and the public's desire for security. And in still other cases (e.g., domestic policy) the administration hasn't come to terms with how to spur economic recovery or pay for the ever-growing liberal wish list, even as the prospect for stagflation and/or a collapse of our borrowing capacity looms.

But in each instance the gap between campaign rhetoric and governing reality is wide. And while the administration remains adept at throwing a summit or trotting out industry leaders to tout the president's ideas, the tough choices have largely been avoided. In the end, it's not about receiving shout outs from fawning pundits or even about rounding up a simple or filibuster-proof majority; it's about crafting effective policy. If you can't do that, no amount of stagecraft will save an administration.

And if we've learned anything in the first months of the Obama administration it is that campaigning only gets you so far. Eventually you have to get the governance right, and so far the prospects for that are mixed at best.