Beltway Confidential

Obama's disregard for experience and humility

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Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Barack Obama,Lobbying

I'll admit, I was drawn into this article on President Obama by Norm Ornstein's odd assertion that Obama has enforced "stiff restrictions on lobbyists entering the administration." Nobody should write something like that without noting that the Obama administration has hired at least 100 ex-lobbyists, including a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist as chief of staff at Treasury.

But the rest Ornstein's article is very revealing (Ornstein is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where I serve as a fellow). As I read the piece, Obama didn't put much stake in experience when staffing his administration:

The initial White House staff structure did not include anyone in a prominent position who knew the executive branch intimately—knew which positions among the political appointees were important for the president's policy objectives and needed to be filled quickly by experts or managers ...

This struck a chord with me because it echoes my suspicions that Obama suffers from hubris. Charles Krauthammer put it well in my interview for our cover story: "He's the least-experienced, least-known president probably in the history of the United States. ... If you're coming in as a novice, you ought to have some humility in deciding where you want to go and take the country.”

Krauthammer argues that Obama's policy agenda is insufficiently humble. Ornstein points to a different problem: Obama's managerial approach was insufficiently humble. As I read Ornstein, Obama put too much stake in intelligence and good intentions (meaning, "being liberal") and too little stake in such stodgy ideas as experience and wisdom.

This Ornstein passage is also telling:

The first clues to this problem came during the transition in 2008. George W. Bush and his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, offered exemplary assistance to the incoming Obama team — but many of the ideas on the table to streamline the nomination process for executive posts, including the cumbersome vetting element, were ignored.

Who needs experience, humility or wisdom from predecessors when you've got the best and brightest, with the best intentions, willing to work really hard?

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