He knows everything. And yet he seems to know nothing. He’s passionate about the details of domestic policy but wasn’t privy to the details of his own legacy law. He’s an academic with a command of every issue at once but seemingly only finds out what his administration is doing in news reports. He’s so brilliant every normal endeavor he’s tried has bored him, but he couldn’t bother to entertain himself with more than one monthly meeting on the make-or-break program of his presidency. He’s the captain of the Culture of Competency who has overseen the most incompetent rollout of an entitlement program in history.
I was struck by a moment in President Obama’s press conference today where this paradox was on full display. The president floated, throughout the press conference, from profession of utter ignorance to confident declaration and directive. Allahpundit noted that Obama distanced himself from the website’s problems by saying he was never informed of its problems. He knew nothing.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK. On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as — the way it was supposed to. Has I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.
So, clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website. Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we’re still working on them.
Neat how his ignorance is proof of his smarts. “I don’t think I’m stupid enough…”
But he later explained how cumbersome and problematic federal IT procurement is, and that he knew that before the website build started, yet inexplicably did not act on this knowledge:
What is true is that, as I said before, our IT systems, how we purchase technology in the federal government is cumbersome, complicated and outdated. And so this isn’t a situation where — on my campaign, I could simply say, who are the best folks out there, let’s get them around a table, let’s figure out what we’re doing and we’re just going to continue to improve it and refine it and work on our goals.
If you’re doing it at the federal government level, you know, you’re going through, you know, 40 pages of specs and this and that and the other and there’s all kinds of law involved. And it makes it more difficult — it’s part of the reason why chronically federal IT programs are overbudget, behind schedule.
And one of the — you know, when I do some Monday morning quarterbacking on myself, one of the things that I do recognize is since I know that the federal government has not been good at this stuff in the past, two years ago as we were thinking about this, you know, we might have done more to make sure that we were breaking the mold on how we were going to be setting this up. But that doesn’t help us now. We got to move forward.
Ya think?! More time dealing with a problem you claim you knew about and less time spent smearing people who pointed out this problem would have been productive. So, in this instance, Obama knew the federal government’s bad track record with IT but did nothing to correct the problem.
So, what does the president act on? Why, an utter lack of knowledge, of course:
One thing that we’ve discovered, though, that I think is — is worth noting, a lot of focus has been on the website and the technology, and that’s partly because that’s how we initially identified it; you know, these are glitches. What we’re discovering is that part of the problem has been technology, hardware and software, and that’s being upgraded. But even if we get the — the hardware and software working exactly the way it’s supposed to with relatively minor glitches, what we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy. And another mistake that we made, I think, was underestimating the difficulties of people purchasing insurance online and shopping for a lot of options with a lot of costs and lot of different benefits and plans and — and somehow expecting that that would be very smooth, and then they’ve also got to try to apply for tax credits on the website.
Apparently entirely ignorant of the process of buying insurance, the president decided to demand an overhaul of the entire insurance industry, building the purchasing mechanism himself.
So, when you know something pertinent about federal technology failures that could increase the chances of success for your pet project, do nothing. When you know absolutely nothing about the subject of your ambitious pet project to remake 1/6 of the economy, try to do everything. And, when you do nothing with the knowledge you do have to prevent the Charlie Foxtrot created by your insistence on acting, ahem, audaciously with knowledge you don’t have, insist that your lack of knowledge is proof of your intelligence. Hey, I’m smart enough that if I knew this was going to be such a lumbering catastrophe, I wouldn’t have said those dumb things about how it would be great!
He knows everything. And yet he knows nothing. The reason for this is the animating feature of Obama’s leadership style, if you can call it that, is not presuming to know all the facts and micromanaging every project ala Jimmy Carter. Nor is it acknowledging he doesn’t know all the facts and surrounding himself with experts he trusts ala George W. Bush. And, no, it’s not combining an intellectual strength and a mind for policy detail with a populist flair ala Bill Clinton. The animating feature of Obama’s leadership style is simply making pronouncements. Making them about things he knows, things he knows not, and waiting for everyone and everything to fall in line. And, when things don’t magically come together, he pronounces his disappointment and anger. Wash, rinse, repeat.
“We’re going to get this done, all right?”
Sure. If you say so.