Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The President Joins a Pitiful Pantheon

Year-end lists are not my thing, but 2013 undeniably places Barack Obama in a category that overcomes admiration with judgment.

“They Must Know What They’re Doing or They Wouldn’t Be Where They Are” is the title of an imaginary volume a leading book publisher and I conceived half a century ago to show the captain of the Titanic, the designer of Ford’s ill-fated Edsel, LBJ directing the Vietnam War and other examples of low acumen in high places.

Since then, the list has grown with Nixon at Watergate, Jimmy Carter's bumbling on Iran captives, Bill Clinton and Monica’s dress, George W's Iraq occupation, Alan Greenspan handling the housing bubble and Heckuvajob Brownie during Katrina with new candidates arriving warp speed.

This year the most intelligent man to occupy the White House in decades sadly takes his place in that pitiful pantheon. Is there any other explanation for Obama’s botch of health care reform and mishandling of the legality of NSA spying  than incompetence triumphing over good intentions?

“You can’t beat brains,” JFK liked to say, but emotional intelligence--“the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups”--is something else, a skill not easily compatible with this President’s background as a law professor.

Recent personal experience prompts me to recall a lifetime of pain over the inability of lawyers such as Washington’s ruling class in all branches of government to deal with the human outcomes of what they instinctively do. Winning an argument is not justice. Outmaneuvering others is no guarantee of fairness.

Sadly, Barack Obama has the spiritual qualities to overcome such shortcomings but has been hobbled by a bad economy not of his making, thinly disguised racism and an unprecedented breakdown of decency in Congress.

But in looking back at the year, there is no alternative to putting him in the company of the inept. The White House must reboot to save the President's remaining two year.

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