November 22, 2013

JAMES TARANTO: War on What? It is the left that has supplanted expertise with ideology.

A left-liberal magazine’s publication of an article titled “The Republican War on Competence” would have seemed unremarkable at just about any point in this columnist’s adult lifetime. But this article, by Jeff Shesol for The New Yorker, was published yesterday–with a Democrat in the White House presiding for the 51st day over the most stunning display of governmental incompetence since Prohibition, maybe since Nero. In that context, it’s like a dispatch from a different planet. . . .

Obama was effective, especially by contrast with McCain, at projecting an image of competence. But there was never any reason to think he possessed the real thing.

Obama had spent most of his career as a state senator; he also briefly worked as a lawyer and a U.S. senator. He wrote a memoir that was reputed to have some literary merit and a second one that was not. At the convention where he was nominated in 2008, his biggest selling point was that he had worked as a “community organizer.” As we noted at the time, Obama was not a competent community organizer, if such a thing is even possible.

Now of course Obama is not incompetent at everything. Simply by being elected president–an office to which many politicians aspire but few come close to reaching–he proved himself highly competent at certain political tasks, including, as we have already acknowledged, the task of projecting an image of competence.

Obama succeeded where Dukakis failed for two reasons: first, as Shesol suggests, because unlike in 1988 the public viewed both the incumbent Republican president and the GOP nominee to succeed him as deficient in competence; but second, because Obama was far better at masking his ideological vulnerability.

That’s not because Obama was less extreme than Dukakis (except on a few issues, such as capital punishment). Rather, he was less vulnerable to attack because he was better defended, and what defended him was his ideological confidence. But that confidence is of a piece with his incompetence at leadership and governance. Obama is a perfect product of the leftist higher-education monoculture of the 1980s.


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