Peggy Noonan nails it: "He Was Supposed To Be Competent"

To hear liberals talk about the Bush Administration, it was simply the most destructive combination of stupidity and corruption imaginable.

By the end of 2005, concern over a “quagmire” in Iraq, combined with the disaster surrounding Hurricane Katrina, left the Bush Administration in political dire straits. Democrats wasted no time convincing the American people that a Republican-controlled government was synonymous with cronyism, a “culture of corruption,” gross incompetence, and a deliberate desire to harm certain groups of people. What America needed was “change.”

Implicit, though, in such political rhetoric is this promise: “If you elect us these kinds of things will never happen again, because we’re better, smarter, more efficient, and far more virtuous than the other guys.

In her latest WSJ opinion piece, Peggy Noonan expands on this theme, and its disastrous political consequences for Barack Obama, who has sadly and utterly failed to live up to the standard of competence that his party created for him:

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America–confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: “Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust.” Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet the need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: “We pay so much for the government and it can’t cap an undersea oil well!”

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn’t like about the Bush administration, everything it didn’t like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point–they know it without being told–but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush’s incompetence and conservatives’ failure to “believe in government.” But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It’s not good to have a president in this position–weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support–less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of “the indispensable nation” be so weakened. I never until the past 10 years understood the almost moral imperative that an American president maintain a high standing in the eyes of his countrymen.

… Republicans should beware, and even mute their mischief. We’re in the middle of an actual disaster. When they win back the presidency, they’ll probably get the big California earthquake. And they’ll probably blow it. Because, ironically enough, of a hard core of truth within their own philosophy: When you ask a government far away in Washington to handle everything, it will handle nothing well.

Tunku Varadarajan was also on the same page earlier this week:

Once you set out, as a president or a party, to propagate a message that the government has (or is) the panacea for all ills, then failure to deal with an ill leads to your being hoist with your own panacea-petard. If the entire range of your political program rests on the message that the government is the problem-solver, the deliverer from evil, the Messiah, the curative current that runs through our civitas, then a failure to solve a problem, to deliver from evil–or from an evil oil spill–leads to consternation, bafflement, and profound disillusion in the ranks of the faithful.

Conservatives know this. “Tea Partiers” know this. Will liberals ever learn, or will they be stuck forever in “too big to fail” thinking?

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