November 15, 2013

Todd Purdum has a revealing look at President Obama’s leadership style in this month’s Vanity Fair. The money quote which may explain how we ended up at the current nadir of his administration is this bit of self-reflection from the then-future president in 2008 2007: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” What was once seen as the president’s preternatural confidence (“I’ve got this”) has now been exposed as grossly inadequate. Hope and change has become despair and status quo. If the president knows more about health policy, for example, than any of his advisers, he needs to get some smarter ones.

President Obama addresses nation from the White House. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)
President Obama addresses nation from the White House. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

But that’s the problem, isn’t: The complexity of the health-care rollout clearly exceeded the president’s capacities, and he was unwilling to reach outside for expertise. The president said things about his health-care plan that were not true and keeps saying them today. His announcement yesterday that people can keep their current health insurance policies is full of holes. The insurance industry and state insurance commissioners will make that decision, not the president.

The job of the president and his staff is so demanding and hard that all participants eventually have moments of failure. The question is what do they do to recover. The wise ones expand their circle and find people who know more than they do. The failures keep trusting their instincts. This is the crossroads where Mr. Obama stands today. One path leads to the possibility of a political resurrection; the other to a failed presidency.