Zuckerman: America has a competency crisis in the White House

Earlier today, we had the unusual instance of a politician endorsing a former opponent for the Presidency.  In today’s Wall Street Journal, we have the somewhat less rare instance of a former supporter arguing against his earlier endorsement.  Mort Zuckerman has already made it clear that he regrets his decision to back Barack Obama on a number of occasions over the last thirteen months, and now he wonders whether Obama has the competency to address the national malaise at all.  In fact, Zuckerman accuses Obama of having only one plan:

It is no surprise that many have begun to doubt the president’s leadership qualities. J.P. Morgan calls it the “competency crisis.” The president is not seen fighting for his own concrete goals, nor finding the right allies, especially leaders of business big or small. Instead, his latent hostility to the business community has provoked a mutual response of disrespect. This is lamentable given the unique role that small business especially plays in creating jobs.

The president appears to consider himself immune from error and asserts the fault always lies elsewhere—be it in the opposition in Congress or the Japanese tsunami or in the failure of his audience to fully understand the wisdom and benefits of his proposals. But in politics, the failure of communication is invariably the fault of the communicator.

Many voters who supported him are no longer elated by the historic novelty of his candidacy and presidency. They hoped for a president who would be effective. Remember “Yes We Can”? Now many of his sharpest critics are his former supporters. Witness Bill Broyles, a one-time admirer who recently wrote in Newsweek that “Americans aren’t inspired by well-meaning weakness.” The president who first inspired with great speeches on red and blue America now seems to lack the ability to communicate any sense of resolve for a program, or any realization of the urgency of what might befall us. The teleprompter he almost always uses symbolizes and compounds his emotional distance from his audience.

We lack a coherent and muscular economic strategy, as Mr. Obama and his staff seem almost completely focused on his re-election. He should be spending most of his time on the nitty-gritty of the job instead of on fund raisers, bus tours and visits to diners, which essentially are in service of his political interests. Increasingly his solutions seem to boil down to Vote for Me.

Zuckerman actually takes a lighter tone with Obama than in his earlier criticisms, but it’s still just as biting.  He marvels at Obama’s passivity, writing that the buck stops with the President in crises, as he is the one politician that represents the entire nation, not a district or state.  Yet Obama hasn’t put forward any kind of coherent plan to deal with a moribund economy and chronic high unemployment, not even when conditions have eroded his standing with the electorate.  Instead of being seen as acting, Obama keeps demanding that Congress come up with ideas, which is what Broyles apparently means when he refers to “well-meaning weakness.”

Obama had the perfect opening to act, Zuckerman argues, with the Simpson-Bowles commission Obama himself launched.  The committee produced a series of tough policy proposals that would have addressed the economic and fiscal crises, and the panel gave Obama plenty of political cover to push the recommendations and position himself as a leader.  Seven months later, Obama still hasn’t bothered to push any of the recommendations on his own, let alone the product of his own blue-ribbon panel.

Of course, plenty of us warned that putting an untested backbencher into the White House as his first executive job created a huge risk for incompetence, especially one so fond of casting “present” votes to dodge political hot potatoes and who engaged in as much self-promotion as Obama did.  Zuckerman was one of those who didn’t recognize the obvious when it counted — and he may still not recognize it.  Zuckerman finishes with this lament:

Clearly the president will have to raise his game to win a second term, especially if the Republicans find a real candidate. Will voters be willing to give him another four years? Like many Americans who supported him, I long for a triple-A president to run a triple-A country.

Want a triple-A President?  Don’t invest in high-risk, low-yield properties.  If Zuckerman’s waiting for this President to “raise his game,” he’ll be waiting a long time.  Obama’s only game is campaigning, and as Zuckerman himself recognizes, that’s the only game with which Obama seems concerned.