Oh, how things have changed. I can remember 2008 when Peggy Noonan was smitten by the man of Destiny.
Well, the bloom is off the rose now, and Peggy has Obama’s number this time.
Itâ€™s a leaderâ€™s job to be skeptical of grand schemes. Sorry, thatâ€™s a conservative leaderâ€™s job. It is a liberal leaderâ€™s job to be skeptical that grand schemes will work as intended. You have to guide and goad and be careful.
And this president wasnâ€™t. I think part of the reason he wasnâ€™t careful is because he sort of lives in words. Thatâ€™s been his whole professional lifeâ€”books, speeches. Say something and it magically exists as something said, and if itâ€™s been said and publicized it must be real. He never had to push a lever, see the machine not respond, puzzle it out and fix it. Itâ€™s all been pretty abstract for him, not concrete. He never had to stock a store, run a sale and see lots of people come but the expenses turn out to be larger than youâ€™d expected and the profits smaller, and you have to figure out what went wrong and do better next time.
People say Mr. Obama never had to run anything, but it may be more important that he never worked for the guy who had to run something, and things got fouled up along the way and he had to turn it around. He never had to meet a payroll, never knew that stress. He probably never had to buy insurance! And you know, his policies were probably gold-platedâ€”at the law firm, through his wifeâ€™s considerable hospital job, in the Illinois Legislature, in the U.S. Senate. Those guys know how to take care of themselves! Maybe he felt guilty. Maybe thatâ€™s to his credit, knowing he was lucky. Too bad he didnâ€™t know what he didnâ€™t know, like how every part has to work for a complicated machine to work.
Here I will say something harsh, and itâ€™s connected to the thing about words but also images.
From what I have seen the administration is full of young people whoâ€™ve seen the movie but not read the book. They act bright, they know the reference, theyâ€™re credentialed. But theyâ€™ve only seen the movie about, say, the Cuban missile crisis, and then they get into a foreign-policy question and theyâ€™re seeing movies in their heads. They havenâ€™t read the histories, the texts, which carry more information, more texture, data and subtlety, and different points of view. Theyâ€™ve only seen the movieâ€”the Cubans had the missiles and Jack said â€œNot another warâ€ and Bobby said â€œPearl Harbor in reverseâ€ and dreadful old Curtis LeMay chomped his cigar and said â€œWe can fry a million of â€˜em by this afternoon, Mr. President.â€ Grrr, grrr, good guys beat bad guys.
Itâ€™s as if history isnâ€™t real to them. They run around tweeting, all of them, even those in substantial positions. â€œDarfur government inadequate. Genocide unacceptable.â€ They share their feelings â€“ that happens to be one of the things they seem to think is real, what they feel. â€œUnjust treatment of womenâ€”scourge that hurts my heart.â€ This is the dialogue to the movies in their heads.
Thereâ€™s a sense that theyâ€™re all freelancing, not really part of anything coherent.
For four years I have been told, by those whoâ€™ve worked in the administration and those whoâ€™ve visited it as volunteers or contractors, that the Obama White House isnâ€™t organized. Itâ€™s just full of chatter. Meetings donâ€™t begin on time, thereâ€™s no agenda, the list of those invited seems to expand and contract at somebodyâ€™s whim. There is a tendency to speak of how a problem will look and how its appearance should be handled, as opposed to what the problem is and should be done about it. People speak airily, without point. They scroll down, see a call that has to be returned, pop out and then in again.
It does not sound like a professional operation. And this is both typical of White Houses and yet on some level extreme. People have always had meetings to arrange meetings, but the lack of focus, the lack of point, the sense that they are operating within accepted levels of incoherenceâ€”this all sounds, actually, peculiar.
And when you apply this to the ObamaCare debacle, suddenly it seems to make sense. The White House is so unformed and chaotic that they probably didnâ€™t ignore the problem, they probably held a million meetings on it. People probably said things like, â€œWeâ€™re experiencing some technological challenges but weâ€™re sure weâ€™ll be up by October,â€ and other people said, â€œYes, itâ€™s important we launch strong,â€ and others said, â€œThe Republicans will have a field day if weâ€™re not.â€ And then everyone went to their next meeting. And no one did anything. And the president went off and made speeches.
Because the doing isnâ€™t that important, the talking is.
Read the whole, devastating thing.