Obama’s Failures are a “Teachable Moment”

Even the most diehard big-government defenders are having a difficult time trying to explain away the failures of the Obama Administration. Doyle McManus writes for the LA Times:

The nation that invented modern management seems to be suffering a crisis of competence.

The Secret Service can’t protect the White House. Public health authorities can’t get their arms around a one-man Ebola outbreak. The army we trained in Iraq collapsed as soon as it was attacked by Islamic extremists, and our own veterans can’t get the care they need at VA hospitals. And, lest we forget, it was only a year ago that the White House rolled out its national health insurance program, only to see its website grind to a halt.

Yes, you can argue that these problems all have different causes.

But it’s hard not to conclude that something basic is amiss in Washington.

That list doesn’t even come close to being exhaustive. DHHS couldn’t build the Obamacare website, the IRS was illegally targeting conservative groups, the Justice Department was embroiled in two major scandals: harassing reporters and engaging in gun running with Mexican drug cartels, and the list goes on and on.

Nevertheless, McManus’ thesis is that the government’s antiquated civil service rules are the problem. But the reality is much more basic: Big government simply doesn’t work. It’s not a problem with hiring rules, it’s not a problem of money, and really, it’s not even a problem of Obama’s lack of leadership. Inefficiency, scandal and poor results are inextricable features of a bloated bureaucracy.

Sadly, that thesis should be self-evident. After all, we have seen decade upon decade in which our government has been laced with scandal, mired in ineffectiveness and beholden to special interests. Many of these outcomes are not the fault of any particular person. Indeed, it is rarely the case that the intentions of our government have been wrong, it’s just that nobody seems to be looking at the inevitable side effects of a chosen course.

As the great economist Milton Friedman said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

To see a good example look no further than President Obama, whose stated goal has been to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. And yet, despite his best efforts through laws like the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus bill, we’ve largely seen the opposite under his leadership. Why?

Because Obama’s policies have made it more expensive to hire workers, which incentivizes employers to invest in capital, not labor. Because his artificially-low interest rates have driven people out of bonds and into the stock market, where 10 percent of Americans own 80 percent of stocks. And his subsidization of college has led schools to push up tuition faster than the value of Pell Grants, thus pricing out poorer families.

President Obama didn’t do any of this on purpose, he’s just not in a position that can predict how the market will react. It’s too complex and too nuanced for anyone to understand. In essence, it defies governance. But hopefully voters have learned something through this president’s struggles. As William Kristol writes for the Weekly Standard:

How to introduce students to conservative thought? It’s hard. The colleges and universities aren’t interested. The media and popular culture are hostile. What if young Americans nonetheless become aware of the existence of such a thing as conservative thought? How to convey its varieties and complexities? Even tougher. You can write articles and put things online, but there’s an awful lot competing for young people’s attention these days.

But there’s good news nonetheless. Help has arrived. Its name? President Barack Obama.

The decomposition of the Obama presidency has created what Obama might call a teachable moment. This is, needless to say, a loathsome phrase, reeking as it does of liberal sanctimoniousness and professorial condescension. Still, who can resist appropriating it, if only for this one occasion? Because it is, really, a moment. It’s a moment when minds can be opened to conservative truths, ears can be induced to hear conservative insights, eyes can be fitted with contact lenses so as better to see conservative arguments.

We hope that’s true. Otherwise we’ll have wasted eight valuable years.