When a farmer complained to Barack Obama two weeks ago at a townhall meeting about rumors of regulations that would force him and his colleagues to get a commercial driver’s license to operate his farm equipment, the President assured him that it was probably nothing. “Folks in Washington” like to get “ginned up” and shout “Look what’s coming down the pipe,” Obama explained, and offered this advice to the farmer:

Obama’s advice was simple: “Contact USDA.”

“Talk to them directly. Find out what it is that you’re concerned about,” Obama told the man. “My suspicion is, a lot of times, they’re going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.”

Politico took Obama up on that advice, and discovered that government isn’t really here to help:

Call Uncle Sam. Sensible advice, but perhaps the president has forgotten just how difficult it can be for ordinary citizens to get answers from the government.

When this POLITICO reporter decided to take the president’s advice and call the USDA for an answer to the Atkinson town hall attendee’s question, I found myself in a bureaucratic equivalent of hot potato — getting bounced from the feds to Illinois state agriculture officials to the state farm bureau.

The advice took Politico’s MJ Lee on a two-day odyssey — and still ended up with no answer.  Instead of demonstrating how silly regulatory rumors are, the exercise proved that no one really knows what regulations we have, what has been proposed, and who’s responsible for them.  It turned into a great example of just how overregulated we are and how inefficient the government is at applying regulation.

Update: Interesting comment from Radjah Shelduck:

Ed, this obviously counts as an Obamateurism, but I think it does so for a different reason than you describe. Obama fancies himself a man of the people. Having heard the farmer’s complaint, why on earth couldn’t this alleged man of the people say to one of his staffers, “Okay, I want you to look into this, find the answer, tell me, and then I will call the farmer PERSONALLY and tell him what the policy is.” A politician can gain an awful lot of good will for things like that.

It’s definitely a missed opportunity — and if Obama had said that, I doubt that we would have seen the media follow-up that MJ Lee did in this instance.

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

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