We jump in the wayback machine, and learn that “smart power” was the Obama/Hillary Clinton term for how America was going to deal with the world. It is defined by the Center for Strategic and International Studies as “an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions of all levels to expand American influence and establish legitimacy of American action.” In other words, a bunch of gobbledygook, substituting a cute phrase for actual productive action. Sure, he’s had a few wins, getting Osama, following Bush’s Iraq exit plan to a tee, launching drone strikes on jihadis from the Horn of Africa to Pakistan, and, um, ah, er, that’s pretty much it. The rest has been anywhere from much ado over nothing to miserable failure. Which, while the Washington Post’s Dan Balz doesn’t put it in those terms, is what he is implying
Whatever else happens as a result of the multiple controversies that have engulfed the administration, one thing is clear: President Obama has failed to meet one of the most important goals he set out when he was first elected, which was to demonstrate that activist government could also be smart government.
Early on Obama had stated that it wasn’t so much about the size of the government, but “whether we have a smart, effective government”. How’s that working out?
This weekend, four of the government’s most important agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi, Libya), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigation of the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults).
We could easily add a long list of idiocracy to that list, things like Fast and Furious, wasting $850 billion on stimulus, abuse of power, and others. You also have the shakedown of businesses by HHS head Kathleen Sebilius, and the dismal implementation of ObamaCare.
Balz offers up a bit of criticism for Republicans in Congress (surprise!), then
But Obama bears a particular responsibility for failing to do what he said he had to do, which was to convince the public that he could make the part of government that he directly controls — the executive branch — smarter, more effective and more deserving of trust.
Early in his presidency, Obama convened a meeting with a group of historians. The topic he put on the table was: What does it take to be a transformational president? Obama’s ambition to be such a figure could be seen in his first-term agenda, which included a major economic stimulus package, a bailout of the auto industry, a major financial regulatory reform package and, biggest of all, the law that is transforming the nation’s health-care industry.
Obama held a meeting with historians because he is the most narcissistic President ever, and that’s saying quite a bit. One must have a bit of self love to voluntarily run for president, but with Obama, the love stops there. He refuses to change to do what is best for the country in the real world. He thinks his college level bull session ideas are The Best And Should Be Implemented And Followed Because He Knows Best.
But his health law is still unpopular, and it’s implementation is unwieldy, to say the least. The auto bailout is a mixed success, but we saw a partisan position in which dealerships were closed. Stimulus may or may not have prevented a full blown depression, but it was the wrong prescription for economic repair and growth, with so many problems there isn’t time to list them all. Dodd-Frank did not address the fundamental problems with the industry nor housing loans.
The full political impact of what is unfolding now may not be clear until closer to the 2014 elections. Obama has been damaged, but how much? Republicans are on the offensive but risk overplaying their hand out of deep dislike for this president. But no matter how the electoral politics turn out, Obama’s goal of creating confidence in bigger government has taken a big hit.
Obama does have a few wins domestically. He, um, well, er, won re-election! And some minor pieces of legislation. He got tax increases on those making $400k and more, but he wanted $200k as the number. He demonized his opponents, both in government and the privates sector. He treats those who do not buy his vision not as opponents, but as enemies. By the time he tried to reach out early in 2013, it was too late. If you kick a dog long enough, it will bite you when you offer it a bone. There are lots of terms one can use to describe Obama’s management style (some best reserved for rants with your car stereo blasting): he’s a bystander, he leads from behind, disengaged, he’s absent. But you can’t describe him as either a true leader (in workplace terms) or even a competent manager (again, in workplace terms). He does set a tone with his conduct and words, and that tone is destructive and counter-productive to any notion of “smart government”.