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Cohen: A question of competence

  • Casey Stengel, the legendary baseball manager, memorably asked of his 1962 New York Mets, "Can't anybody here play this game?" (Associated Press)

Where is Casey Stengel when we need him? In 1962 as the manager of the brand new and determinedly hapless New York Mets — 40 wins, 120 losses — he looked up and down his bench one dismal day and wondered, “Can't anybody here play this game?” That phrase kept coming at me recently as I watched the impressively inept performance of the Obama administration in both foreign and domestic policy. On a given day, this administration makes the '62 Mets look good.

This is a surprise — at least to me. If Barack Obama has an image, it is of the infinitely cool, cerebral leader. The man can give a rousing speech, but he is, at heart, a planner and a plodder. Both his presidential campaigns were exercises in micromanagement — digital all the way. Obama was the better candidate, but he had, by far, the better organization.

Yet this same man has lately so mishandled both domestic and foreign policy that he is in mortal peril of altering his image. This unsettling and uncharacteristic incompetence became shockingly clear when Obama failed to come to grips with the Syrian civil war I did not agree with the president's do-nothing policy, but at least it was both a policy and intellectually coherent. What followed, though, was both intellectually incoherent and pathetically inconsistent — a “red line” that came out of nowhere and then mysteriously evaporated, and a missile strike that was threatened and then abandoned. It was a policy so wavering that if Obama were driving, he would be forced to take a breathalyzer.

The debacle of the Affordable Care Act's website raised similar questions about confidence. This was supposed to be Obama's Big Deal. The president has other accomplishments — navigating out of the Great Recession was no minor feat — but restoring the status quo does not get your face on Mount Rushmore. It takes achievement, a program — something new and wonderful. The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be it.

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