What did Obama know and when did he know it?

It is hard to know which would be more embarrassing for President Obama — that he was aware that the critical sign-up website for his Affordable Care Act had not been fully tested before it was released, but hoped for the best anyway; or that he was not aware and thus had to deal with the shock that the initial two months the website was up would be a disaster because of early failures.  Either way, it is a terrific failure of leadership that could doom the success of his most cherished program.  Perhaps he was just so focused on the threats to health care and the US economy from the impending budget and debt-ceiling crisis that he assumed his staff was taking care of this?  Still, it is a puzzle that he did not personally make sure that the most important element of his Presidency in domestic affairs — a successful start to Obamacare — was well in hand.

Now we have another puzzle — is it more disturbing that President Obama’s administration was listening in on the private phone calls of dozens of world leaders, or that the President claims not to have been aware of it?   After all, for whose benefit would the US spy on the conversations of foreign leaders if not for our own leader, the President?   So if the President is not aware of this spying, it is a wasteful rogue program that developed on his watch.  And if he is aware of this spying, then he had better explain the value of this program and why he thought it was worthwhile to undermine the privacy and trust of our most crucial allies by spying on them without their knowledge.

President Obama may be a brilliant writer and a scholarly mind of great power, but his grasp of the practicalities of leadership seem weak.  His inexperience is obvious, as he never held a major executive position before becoming President (!!).  But then it would have been imperative to surround himself with skilled administrators and practiced hands at getting things done.

It does not seem President Obama has got that message, among many others that somehow didn’t reach him.

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About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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