Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Obama and Government

I have noticed something interesting about the Obama presidency.  During the election, the conventional wisdom was that he was a great politician, but he would not be a good manager.  He was seen as someone full of rhetoric and short of practical skills.

The reverse seems to be true.  Obama seems amazingly inept at playing Washington's political games; he has shown no ability to control or manage Congress.  Almost everything that has come out of Congress since his election has been junk, and that shows no signs of changing.  And yet, he is running the administrative branch of government, the part he is directly responsible for, with admirable competence.  His economic and regulatory policies have been much better than normal, and certainly much better than the Bush's.

He is very much an intellectual, a technocrat who knows how to deal well with anything that can be studied and analyzed academically, but who is incapable of dealing with the explosive vagaries of human nature.  He can give a good speech and work a crowd, but he cannot 'work' a room full of politicians.  I get the impression that he would be much better at chess than poker.

He also seems to be a moral and idealistic human being.  Whatever you may think of his policies, and the people he has worked with, his personal actions and lifestyle are beyond reproach.  In many ways, he is the exact opposite of people like LBJ and Bill Clinton.

I know it is silly to look for patterns like this, and it is easy to invent connections out of thin air, but there are amazing parallels between Obama and Carter.  They are similar kinds of people, and they were elected by a population reacting against the attitudes and actions of the previous administration.  Both presided over a rotten economy that was not really their fault, and both of them had to deal with a popular revolt against American-backed dictators in Muslim countries that had been propped up by previous administrations.  

Obama, however, seems to be handling things much better than Carter did.

Here's the story that inspired this post.  Economists have long knows that competitions are the best way to get value for money, and Obama's time at the University of Chicago, which has one of the best Economics departments in the country, seems to have taught him a lot of good lessons.

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