Quotes of the day

Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market…

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

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If Mitt Romney had said in 2012 that a second Obama term would bring not just continued economic uncertainty, but also the re-emergence of international terrorist forces, Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, an illegal immigration crisis, a knife-wielding madman in the White House, a beheading in Oklahoma, and the Ebola virus in Texas, even the president’s most paranoid critics would have told him to calm down…

Perhaps the closest analogue in the Bush administration would be late 2005, when the administration’s weak response to Hurricane Katrina marked the beginning of the end of his presidency, a moment embodying the administration’s reputation for ineptitude and insularity.

Ironically, that was the charge levied at the Bush administration by none other than Senator Obama, speaking on ABC’s This Week on September 11, 2005…

Then, in reply to George Stephanopolous’s question of how Senator Obama would advise President Bush, he added that the president should tell the people that “what he saw woke him up, that it made him realize not only that issues of government competence in the response have to be dealt with, but more broadly, that he is awakened to the fact that in fact our country is not doing the sort of job it should be …”

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All of these events, layered on top of Americans’ general frustration with Washington leaders and the political system, may present a new opening for political leaders who can offer experience — and a sense that somebody actually knows what they’re doing, according to political operatives and analysts from both parties.

In other words, “competence” — the basic, unsexy quality that has fallen flat in other elections — might become an actual selling point in 2016…

The one constant is the sense that leaders in Washington aren’t on top of things. What keeps happening on top of that are the external events that raise the level of uncertainty,” like the Secret Service and Ebola debacles, said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who worked on the survey.

Yang compared the challenge of Washington’s political leaders to a waiter at a restaurant who struggles as customers pile more and more plates on his tray: “Can he get back to the kitchen without breaking them?”

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The proverb “For want of a nail” teaches that sometimes it is necessary to sweat the small stuff. Otherwise, a tiny flaw will doom a giant enterprise.

The concept explains the spectacular incompetence of Big Government. America’s super-state is the most powerful and richest force ever known, yet it often forgets to tie its shoelaces. In its Keystone Kops moments, it looks too big to succeed

[ObamaCare’s] massive enterprise would turn on a very small hinge — a Web site called HealthCare.gov. There was, naturally, a problem: It didn’t work. The computers were slow, they crashed, gave out wrong information or no information, and were easy pickings for hackers…

In trying to explain the problems, Obama called them “glitches,” a harmless-sounding word that didn’t fully describe the fiasco. He might have said “for want of a nail.” Or for want of competence.

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But the remarkable thing about Pierson’s departure is how rare something like this is. Politicians and government bureaucrats are sometimes ousted over a sex scandal, embezzlement, or bribery, or for saying something that is wildly inappropriate, but they rarely get fired for just doing their jobs poorly, especially in the realm of foreign and national security policy. This inadvertent form of job security may help explain why U.S. foreign policy hasn’t performed very well in recent decades, and it may also explain why some major foreign-policy endeavors — such as reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — have been plagued by mismanagement and billions of squandered dollars…

By most accounts, Samantha Power and Susan Rice led the charge behind the ill-advised U.S. decision to topple Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya; the result is a failed state there, yet both women received important new posts in Obama’s second term. Director of Central Intelligence James Clapper has admitted to misleading (i.e., lying to) Congress regarding the National Security Agency’s surveillance, yet Obama has kept him in his post. CIA chief John Brennan has displayed even more impressive Teflon-like qualities: Obama apparently still retains “full confidence” in him despite his prior role in Bush-era torture, his false or misleading statements about various CIA activities, and his declining public support. And it’s not like the CIA has doing such a great job in its principal mission — providing intelligence — given its failure to anticipate a) the Arab Spring, b) Russia’s response to events in Ukraine, or c) the recent emergence of the Islamic State. One might also ask why the geniuses who helped provoke the crisis in Ukraine still have their jobs too, but that’s another story…

Members of the foreign-policy elite are often reluctant to hold each other to account because they know that it may eventually be their turn in the cross-hairs. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a sound career principle for foreign-policy insiders, and it encourages them to pull their punches when dealing with their counterparts’ failings. Really big and visible mistakes can’t be ignored and will have professional consequences, but even these errors tend to be forgiven over time.

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“This administration has been disconnected from the government it’s supposed to be running,” Kamarck charges (and, remember, she’s a Democrat). “They seem to view the federal workforce as hostile territory. They don’t engage with it…. They don’t have a strong system of getting info from the agencies to the president.”

The clearest proof: “They keep getting surprised by stuff. And the surprise is almost worse than anything else. It conveys the sense that the White House doesn’t know what its own government is doing…

“Today, presidents travel nonstop and talk nonstop,” she said. “That wasn’t always true. This addiction to PR has been terrible for the presidency. Every hour he’s on the campaign trail is an hour he could be talking with members of Congress. My advice to any president would be: Stop talking. Start working.”…

The federal government isn’t inherently incapable of running big projects reasonably well; just think of Social Security, the space program or the end of the Cold War. But right now, we’re not getting the federal government we deserve.

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[T]his was supposed to be liberalism’s moment. This was supposed to be a new Progressive Era. Obama came into office vowing to be “transformative” just like Ronald Reagan — the difference being that Reagan ushered in an era of skepticism about government, and Obama wanted to usher in an era of hope and idealism about all the wonderful things government can do. In Obama’s mind this put him at odds with Republicans. And in a partisan sense it obviously did.

But as a matter of policy, Obama’s real challenge came from within. Government’s failures in recent years cannot be laid at the feet of the Republican Party but at the feet of the Democratic Party. If you were to ask most serious liberal policy wonks how they would make government more effective, a good number of their answers would involve doing things the Democratic base of the party would never, ever allow…

If Obama wanted to restore faith in government, he would have pushed for mercilessly firing bad government workers and ending stupid government programs. And while he paid a little lip service to such things, his priorities were all in the other direction. That is because he had to dance with the girl that brung him. The Democratic Party isn’t simply the party of government, it is the party for government.

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In short, the United States faces crises of leadership and trust. Which, to me, is the scariest thing about the Ebola outbreak. I’m far less worried about the disease striking me or my loved ones than I am about what this incident says about the nation’s ability to survive a true cataclysm. Whether the next existential event is Ebola or ISIS or any of the countless 21st-century horrors, we are only as strong as our institutions—and our trust in them…

How much faith can the public summon toward an administration that used incompetence as a defense in scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi, and Obamacare; that lied about its surveillance of Americans; and that just recently acknowledged dangerous misjudgments regarding the Secret Service and ISIS?

And yet, it wasn’t Obama who misled the public about Saddam Hussein or the Vietnam War or Watergate. The trust deficit runs deeper than one president—or even the presidency. While vast economic, social and technological changes buffet the lives of most Americans, those institutions that are supposed to shield people are failing to adapt…

Ebola is a serious threat, but it’s not the disease that scares me. What scares me is that fact that we can’t trust the institutions that are supposed to deal with such threats, and we can’t trust the men or women who lead them. Which means they can’t help us.

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Via the Corner.

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