Obama’s ‘crisis of competence’ drags down the Democrats

October 31, 2014

Obama holds a meeting with Ebola Response Coordinator Klain (not pictured) at the White House in Washington

Once upon a time, a candidate ran for president on the issue of competence. “This election isn’t about ideology,” he told the 1988 Democratic National Convention. “It’s about competence.”

The candidate’s name was Michael Dukakis, and the competence issue was a flop. Ronald Reagan was president, and his competence actually was in doubt. The Iran-Contra scandal revealed that the president didn’t know what was going on in the White House basement.


But the economy was booming, and Dukakis’ opponent was Vice President George H.W. Bush. Bush had held almost every top job in Washington, including Reagan’s vice president and director of the CIA.  No one was questioning Bush’s competence.

It’s now more than 25 years later, and the theme of this year’s midterm campaigns is — guess what? — competence.  Washington Post reporter Chris Cilizza wrote in July, “You can understand President Obama’s current political problems — and how those problems could make things very tough for his party in this fall’s midterm elections — in a single word. And that word is ‘competence.’”

A year ago in November, the Obama administration pressed ahead with a stunningly  bungled rollout of Obamacare. Then there were sorry revelations about mismanagement in the Veteran’s Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the General Services Administration. The administration’s responses to Islamic State atrocities in the Middle East and to Russian aggression in Ukraine have looked ineffective. The American public decided U.S. border security failed over the summer as tens of thousands of young Latino migrants flooded into the United States. Meanwhile, the once admired Secret Service is mired in scandal and challenged by repeated breaches of White House security.

Even though Reagan wasn’t exactly a hands-on manager, he had something going for him that President Barack Obama doesn’t. Reagan was able to reassure Americans that the situation was under control. The public needs to believe that a president is in control of events — even though he often isn’t. Reagan did it with a display of immense self-confidence and a steadfast certainty about his own ideas.

FILE PHOTO OF FORMER U.S PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN.Obama does not reassure people. Maybe because he’s too smart to rely on homilies. After all, Obama’s thoughtful and deliberative qualities were among the factors that got him elected. They were in sharp contrast with President George W. Bush’s recklessness. Yet those same thoughtful and deliberative qualities are now undermining this president’s authority.

What did Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say? “Let me have men about me who are fat/Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights./Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look./He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”

Reagan was not fat. But you can be pretty sure that he did sleep a-nights.  And no one ever accused him of thinking too much.

Republicans are using the Ebola outbreak to make the case that the Obama administration is unable or unwilling to protect the American public. Just in the past week, scary ads mentioning Ebola ran 734 times, almost all sponsored by Republican candidates and conservative SuperPACs in hotly contested U.S. Senate races (Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado).

Obama hasn’t been able to lower the temperature.  “We don’t want to do things,” he said on Tuesday, “that aren’t based on science and best practices because if we do, we’re just putting another barrier on somebody’s who’s already doing important work on our behalf.”

Of course it’s wonderful that American healthcare workers are trying to save Ebola victims in West Africa. But what is the government doing to protect us — and them?  Obama might be surprised to know that Americans do not have as high a level of confidence in “science” as he does. After all, one in three Americans does not accept the theory of evolution.

And aren’t scientists the guys who keep telling us that something we used to think was bad for us is actually good for us?  Public trust in the once highly respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dropped from 60 percent in 2013 to 37 percent now, according to a CBS News poll.

Now we hear that the military is imposing a quarantine on returning U.S. military personnel who have been working to stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. At the same time, Obama rejects quarantines for medical workers returning to the United States.  The government is not speaking with one clear voice.

People realize they can’t have absolute security — whether it’s from terrorist attacks or viruses. They just want to be reassured that the government is doing everything it can to protect them, and that the situation is under control. The appointment of an “Ebola czar” has not really done that.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, said this week at a university forum that Obama’s response to Ebola “looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified.”

Obama is a complex thinker.  He may be too cautious and deliberative to communicate total reassurance.  Intellectually, that’s commendable.

Politically, it can be ruinous.


PHOTO (TOP): President Barack Obama pauses while speaking during a meeting with members of his team coordinating the government’s Ebola response in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, October 22, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (INSERT 1):Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee. WIKIPEDIA/Commons

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Ronald Reagan addressing a news conference in Washington, October 19, 1983. REUTERS/Mal



We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Interesting but irrelevant argument. The incompetence in the presidency is about leadership, and Obama completely fails in that critical respect (as opposed to your example, Reagan, who knew how to lead). Intelligence is nice, but in Obama’s case, his arrogance negates that intelligence. Shakespeare was writing to entertain his audience; most leaders know that they want competent advisors that will give an honest opinion surrounding them (again, Obama’s arrogance precludes this).

Posted by Senseiman | Report as abusive

Why do the apologists for Obama state he is smart and deliberative. These qualities are displayed in the actions taken by an individual and are missing in Obama’s case. The emperor wears no clothes.

Posted by Skepticus | Report as abusive

I think you are too charitable to O. Buried deep at realclearpolitics is a feature called changinglanes, video interviews with various interesting people. One interview is with Clarence Page, who has had the chance to watch the entire development of the O phenomenon.

Mr CP thinks Elvis has left the building. O doesn’t do deep, he works the crowd, then moves on, always has. That observation explains things. He moved on from Ukraine, Merkel now has that. Healthcare law, too icky to bother with reforming the flaws. Civil Rights – Holder’s job. Illegal immigrants, NSA/CIA overreach, Israel, ISIS, China pivots, executive orders, nooo follow thru. The rubes can be rousted to blame the GOP, tho several of his failures contain no element of any Congressional involvement. I won’t be at all surprised that if he loses the Senate, he eventually resigns.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Schneider refers to Obama’s intellectual strength throughout this article. I have a simple question for him, as well as for anyone else who considers Barack Hussein Obama to be an intellectual giant, or even intellectual at all:

Name ONE thing that Obama has done or said that demonstrates to you that he is, in fact, intellectual.

Barack Obama is suposed to be an expert on the Constitution, and to have been a professor of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago (actually, his courses were on “diversity”).

OK then: Can anyone anywhere, including Bill Schneider, point to anything EVER said by Barack Hussein Obama that demonstrates even a vague, passing familiarity with the U.S. Constitution?

I look forward to anyone’s answers to these questions. But I already know that liberals will avoid them. They got nuttin’ to offer in response.

Posted by Truthsquader | Report as abusive

Thanks for your feedback. Your comment is pending, awaiting approval.

However, it seems to be conservative in nature. Therefore it is likely that it will be stalled for an extremely long time or simply refused. That is because this site is monitored by liberals, and we simply do not like the cut of your jib. We are not compelled to display the comments of conservatives. We are a private organization, and thus not subject to the Constitution you seem to find so important. So – – Whatevs, Buddy! And Bye-Bye!! We do NOT allow the reasonable comments of conservatives. We have our reason: We are RIGHT, and conservatives are WRONG! So there!! Deal with it.

Don’t like our stance? So sue us!!!! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha! And, again, Bye-Bye!!!

Posted by Truthsquader | Report as abusive

I also think Professor Schneider is too charitable to Obama. About the only point on which I would agree with the professor is Obama’s intelligence. He would thrive in an ivory tower somewhere. Unfortunately, he suffers from what all too many academics are afflicted with: a potent combination of narcissism and arrogance. What Mr. Obama is clearly deficient in is leadership, if you define that not only as the ability to motivate, but also as the ability to follow through. He Peter Principled out as the President, and if you look at his voting record, that appears to be what happened when he was a Senator. A competent thinker? Yes. Competent at leadership and management, which is what the Presidency is all about? He will be brought up as the example of how not to lead for a long time to come. And most good leaders are effective because they surround themselves with competent advisors who are encouraged to speak their mind; another huge strike against Obama, but those qualities of narcissism and arrogance do not allow dissent.

Posted by Senseiman | Report as abusive

Isn’t that the ‘excuse’ we always hear from the O-Apologists – that Obama is just too cerebral; too intelligent; too far out in front; that if people only understood him like they did, they would recognize the unbelievable talent and leadership.
But No One see this – what we see is a President who is overwhelmed; who is wrong more often than he is right; who believes he knows better – but doesn’t; a President who appears to lack interest in rolling up his sleeves and doing the dirty work of governing; who is more comfortable in telling us what needs to be done than actually doing it; a President who blames those who came before him rather than accepting responsibility; We see a small President.

You talk about Reagan – why was he able to connect with America – why wasn’t the media able to ‘smear’ the ‘teflon’ actor president – it’s because he had a dream that America was different – that We were exceptional in this world – and he was right. And no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t undermine his vision of America and the world. He thought big, and he was a big President and Eastern Europe is eternally grateful.

Posted by willich6 | Report as abusive

Sadly, Mr. “0” does not convey an image of competence, or confidence; rather an image of confusion in total disarray.

Posted by GCGriswold | Report as abusive

Nonsense opinion and nonsense comments. Let us start a discussion that is informed by reality, not this right wing drivel. Me thinks this is symptomatic of the Monday before election. The conservative “think tanks” have hired a bunch of internet shills to sway opinion.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Crisis of competence indeed! But the real scary lack of incompetence was amongst the voters that elected this failure twice.
Well tomorrow we’ll find out what grade the nation gives Obama on his performance to date.
Of course if Obama loses the Senate be prepared to hear how it was the fault of women and minorities for not voting.
What is going to be really funny is the number of Republican women running for the Senate that will win. Think about that for a moment while thinking about the supposed ‘war on women’ the progressives accuse of the republicans of waging. The conservatives have such a war on women that they are running winning women candidates, to the House and Senate, that will beat out progressive men.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Obama is not intellectual. Good laugh from this story though.

Posted by kevivoe | Report as abusive

Americans have always valued a pleasant lie over an unpleasant truth.

Posted by douglashall | Report as abusive

Biggest lie of the last ten years, “Mission Accomplished.” That’s what Americans want in their leaders.

Posted by douglashall | Report as abusive

in the current electoral process, competence means being the best salesman…….both in terms of getting campaign money and votes…..

so, we get salesmen not statesmen.

and the person, that gets elected, may have spent so much time working on his sales skills, that he’s not good at anything else.

Posted by Robertla | Report as abusive

Obama proved,he was a great salesman.That’s all you need to be elected,in a country where most voters,haven’t a clue about what govt should do or be.

Posted by jrj906202 | Report as abusive

Great write-up, I¡¦m regular visitor of one¡¦s blog, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a long time.

Posted by Homepage | Report as abusive

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thanks for supplying this info.

Posted by Maduras | Report as abusive

Wow, great article.Really thank you! Great.

Posted by eebest8 | Report as abusive