June 8, 2010 in Opinion

Froma Harrop: Odds go to Obama’s experts

Froma Harrop Syndicated columnist
 
No Charen

Syndicated columnist Mona Charen, whose commentary usually appears in this space, did not file a column this week.

Gulf Coast residents are supposedly mad at President Barack Obama for not keeping the oil from threatening their beaches and marshes. We hear this in stereo – from political opposition on the right and liberal pundits bored by the president’s cerebral approach to problem-solving.

Stopping the waves is a job for Neptune, not a president. Obama cannot raise his trident and force the oil back into the hole. There are things he can do, but they’re a lot less impressive.

Granted, Obama’s early campaign for president cultivated a myth of his godlike powers. And some still seem to buy into the magic narrative. Columnist Maureen Dowd writes that “Barack Obama is a guy who is accustomed to having stuff go right for him.” Sunday talk show panelists repeated this idea, followed by “and now look what’s happening to him”: A vast oil spill brings disaster in the gulf. Israel complicates Mideast diplomacy by killing would-be blockade breakers. The new job numbers are lousy.

With all due respect to colleagues, these things aren’t happening to Obama. They are happening to the world. Obama’s vaunted “good luck” was in campaign politics, a far smaller and more manageable stage than he’s playing on today. There has never been a time in world history when stuff wasn’t happening.

No, his stimulus didn’t end the scourge of high unemployment. That is a long-term and structural challenge, made tougher by the recent recession. No one is going to cheer a 9.7 percent jobless rate, even if it was a tad below April’s. But one can argue that it might have gone a lot higher without the stimulus.

Obama’s critics can rationally blame him for announcing plans to expand offshore drilling – especially before cleaning up the sex-addled Minerals Management Service, which is supposed to regulate the industry. But they can’t ask, as some on the right have, why Obama hasn’t managed to stop the crisis a mile underwater. Or, as the left asks, why the administration put faith in BP’s early reports about the blowout. The answer to both questions is that BP is there, a mile below the surface, and the U.S. government is not.

The proper government response? Do what is humanly possible to keep the oil from shore, as BP fixes the well. The administration is doing that. It has also reversed plans on expanding offshore drilling, pending an investigation of what went wrong.

But on the left, Atlantic writer Joshua Green criticizes Obama for “his abiding faith in the judgment of experts.” Columnist Frank Rich agrees: Whether the subject is the oil spill or the troubled campaign in Afghanistan or even divining future unemployment rates, Obama has erred by relying on experts. Solving these problems “may be beyond the reach of marathon brainstorming by brainiacs,” Rich writes, “even if the energy secretary is a Nobel laureate.”

Fine. That the best and the brightest can get it wrong is not quite news. But if not experts, to whom should Obama listen? Should he check the horoscope or take his troubles down to Madame Ruth? If the experts aren’t performing as desired, he can find different experts.

For my taxpayer dollar, I’d prefer a calm leader who works with the most respectable opinions he can find. Some of the worst Obama decisions – going passive during the health care ruckus and pushing for new offshore drilling – came not from listening to science, economic and military experts, but his political advisers.

In dealing with “stuff,” Obama does not make the grade as a god. But as an intelligent human being playing a tough hand of cards, he’s not been that bad.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for the Providence Journal.


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