Carping About Competence

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009; 9:52 AM

Barack Obama might be getting whiplash these days.

First he was blamed for the plunging stock market, until there was a slight rebound. Then he was roundly criticized for trying to do too much at once, a theme that was reprised Sunday on "Meet the Press."

And now the august chroniclers of the MSM are raising questions about whether our new president knows what the hell he's doing.

The significance here is that these aren't ardent conservatives who might be expected to beat up on a Democratic president. These are, mostly, middle-of-the-road types who are starting to raise questions about Obama's performance.

The president is pushing a big agenda that is, of course, fair game. But it seems to me he's stuck in an uncomfortable limbo. He inherited huge problems that forced him to start drafting economic legislation even before taking the oath. He rammed through a huge stimulus plan in record time and unveiled a new bank bailout plan. But even under the best of circumstances, these efforts are going to take time to show results. In the meantime, the daily drumbeat in the punditocracy is that Obama, who promised so much, hasn't made much headway.

This much, I think, is fair: You have to learn how to be president. That was true when JFK blundered into the Bay of Pigs and it's true today.

There is no better barometer than David Broder declaring that Obama's honeymoon is over, and that some of his policies "are bafflingly complex, and all of them are untested."

A harsher assessment comes from Michael Goodwin in New York's Daily News:

"Yes, it's early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It's a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House. . . .

"Polls show that most people like Obama, but they increasingly don't like his policies . . .

"Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the doubts about Obama himself. His famous eloquence is wearing thin through daily exposure and because his actions are often disconnected from his words. His lack of administrative experience is showing."

Bill Bennett has compiled a list "of media and political moderates," some of them past Obama supporters, who have turned critical. These include Newsweek's Robert Samuelson (who called Obama "the great pretender" over his budget) and Howard Fineman, who says "Obama may be mistaking motion for progress."

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