President Barack Obama at an Organizing for Action 'Obamacare Summit' in Washington, DC, November 4, 2013.
Ron Sachs / POOL

Manager in Chief

An L.A. Times piece made the rounds yesterday, which captured the new conventional wisdom about President Obama for much of the Beltway: he’s not a good enough “manager.”
A year after his reelection triumph, President Obama is facing an awkward question from friends and foes alike: Why can’t he run the government as well as he ran his campaign?

What with the IRS targeting of tea party groups; the poor security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya; the eavesdropping on close allies; and the botched rollout of the landmark healthcare law, Obama increasingly seems to be battling top-level management failures as much as policy or political problems.
The argument seems to be increasingly common in the wake of the dysfunctional website, but the thesis leaves much to be desired.
Indeed, some of the evidence the L.A. Times article presents as fact is demonstrably incorrect – the IRS, for example, did not target Tea Party groups. For that matter, while a debate over the scope of U.S. surveillance efforts is clearly worthwhile, these programs pre-date the Obama presidency, and whether or not one is comfortable with the eavesdropping, the merits of the surveillance is unrelated to its efficacy – this is not a “management failure.”
So what are we left with? Inadequate security at a diplomatic outpost and a website that’s not working, both of which are certainly grounds for legitimate criticism.  But it seems like an argument that starts with a premise – the president isn’t managing well – and works backwards to reinforce it.
Meanwhile, there’s also ample evidence of Obama running a competent executive branch the way he should. Investments through the Recovery Act, for example, were run exceptionally well, despite faulty conservative predictions about possible fraud. The rescue of the American automotive industry was also executed almost perfectly. The White House has responded quite effectively to natural disasters and terrorist threats, which are arguably proof of the president being a capable and successful “manager.”
Kevin Drum added, “The plain truth is that Obama’s management style is about as good as any other president’s. Obamacare obviously shows him at his worst, but it doesn’t demonstrate some kind of cosmic management deficiency.”
If the website is repaired and the system gets back on track, can we expect a round of analysis pieces about the president’s bold and effective leadership getting his administration back on track?

Barack Obama

Manager in Chief