(Article changed on August 12, 2013 at 21:31)
(Article changed on August 12, 2013 at 21:30)
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Two sterling insights from Obama neighbor, noted writer, and
good friend, Francis-Noel Thomas, capture the disaster that is the modern
1) Whatever a president doesn't know on election, he won't learn in office. However willing, what newcomer has the time or attention to master key leadership gaps? Consider the expertise to negotiate effectively with Congress, let alone grasp counterinsurgency theories, the culture of the intelligence agencies, the Federal Reserve System, or multifaceted energy or health care industries. Command demands know-how.
2) Today's voters cannot evaluate a candidate's all-important qualifications. Blitzed by media, the electorate often mistakes resume items for working knowledge and skills. Does a partial Senate term convey how Congress works or teach even the brightest how to exploit the institutional powers of the presidency?
In this context, Obama and Bush share far more than maddening continuity on militarism, spying or anti-terrorism abuses, and corporate welfare. Equally under-prepared for Washington crossfire, both susceptible neophytes rushed to over-delegate power and judgment, conceding huge deficiencies. Did either understand the engrained and myriad cultures of ruling power bases they promised to reign in? Did either understand foreign affairs beyond sound bites, especially quagmires like Pakistan or Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan? Did either know diplomacy or taxation or how corporate spread commandeers more clout than most sovereign countries?
The Contagion of Gullibility
Though Dubya headed a large state, Texas' weak governor system suited his fatuous "brokering" of pre-packaged deals. Despite fancy university degrees, business failures and family campaigning (pitching evangelicals), plus days in the military, Bush stayed a provincial, incurious rube. This amateur status likely endeared the governor to GOP elites (like Rove), who figured that gullibility, for which Dubya holds the world's record, would only enhance electability. And they were right: the mock Decider epitomizes the Peter Principle, wherein elevation from marginal competence to a post beyond one's skill-set serves to dramatize defects (bingo, our worst president).
Likewise, Obama cruised home on an underwhelming career train, the low-level state politician turned ephemeral senator. In what core competence (Congress, the military, Wall Street, privacy laws, job growth, immigration, or leveraging the bully pulpit) has this president risen above mediocrity? His residual popularity reflects not yet getting blamed for Bushian-style calamities (though he's making up for lost time). Judging solely by the results, neither Bush, nor Obama understood what president greatness, even excellence, demanded. So gullible voters naturally elect gullible presidents. How else to explain that Romney the peerless blunderer got more votes than veteran, run-of-the-mill blunderer McCain?