Monday, October 5, 2009

Presidents Matter, Too!

Ezra Klein (he's reacting to Salmon on Lizza on Summers, but I haven't read those yet, so I'm just reacting to know, I think I should start over).

Ezra Klein makes the point that so far, the Obama Administration seems to be well run, especially with regard to implementing policy. He speculates:
The Obama team seems, at this juncture, to be technically proficient at the work of government. My hunch is this is largely a function of hiring so many veterans of the Clinton White House, as that imbued the young Obama administration with a level of skill and seasoning that other White Houses don't develop until their second term, if they ever develop it at all.
I suspect this is backwards. The Bush administration had lots of skill and seasoning; Andy Card was certainly as groomed for the job as any WH Chief of Staff has been. And yet they were generally awful at the work of government. Reagan's second-term White House was certainly more experienced and perhaps more skilled than his first-term White House, but they were worse at the work of government.

The key variable here isn't the staff; it's the president. George W. Bush could have had the most talented and experienced group surrounding him ever assembled, but without knowing how to use them -- without knowing how to ask tough questions -- and without actually caring whether the work of government gets done well, the results would be chaos, as it was with a disengaged second-term Reagan and a hapless W. throughout. Yes, the staff matters and it matters a lot -- but the quality of the staff is (mostly) a function of the competence of the president.

It's still possible that we'll learn that early, positive signs from this White House were spin and not reality, but so far I agree that the indications are very good.

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