Peggy Noonan’s New Criteria For Presidential Competence

I’m never sure what to think of Peggy Noonan. Sometimes she sounds more rational than the typical conservative columnist writing for The Wall Street Journal. Other times she comes up with nonsense like in today’s column bashing Obama over the BP oil spill. Naturally many conservative sites are lapping it up as it attacks Obama.

It is amusing to see writers who normally claim that the role of the federal government should be limited to the functions specifically listed in the Constitution now arguing that the ability to handle an oil spill is the way to measure a president’s competence. The same bloggers who whine that health care is not listed in the Constitution don’t care that oil spills are not mentioned either. Of course they are totally oblivious to how Republican deregulation and hiring of political cronies and industry shills as opposed to competent regulators  contributed to this disaster as I noted yesterday.

If Noonan is going to judge the success of Obama’s presidency based upon this oil spill then she needs to review her own view after Katrina. Blue Texan provides this comparison:

Nooners, today.

I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill.

Nooners, after Katrina.

Is the Bush Era over? No, no, no. It has three more years. That’s a long time. History turns on a dime. There is much ahead, and potential for progress.

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent rebuttal of Noonan’s post:

The premise of Noonan’s moronic column is that the federal government, especially the president, should be capable of ending an oil-pipe rupture owned and operated by private companies, using technology that only deep-sea oil companies deploy or understand. And if such a technical issue is not resolved by government immediately, it reveals paralyzing presidential weakness and the failure of an entire branch of political philosophy. Again: seriously? It’s Obama‘s fault that under Bush and Cheney, government regulation of oil exploration was so poor and corrupt, corner cutting appears to have been routine? And this, Peggy, is what governments do, even when run by crazy-ass liberals. Governments do not dig for oil; they merely regulate those who dig for oil. That the government failed to do so under the previous administration does not seem to me to be proof that this administration has failed. (For a blast of common sense on this, see Clive.)

For Noonan, the American public is concerned only with spending, illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to stop an oil leak. For Noonan, the steepest downturn since the 1930s never happened. For Noonan, the flaws of the healthcare system – like, er, millions have none – do not exist. For Noonan, the massive debt – almost all of which Obama either inherited or built in the emergency attempt to stabilize a global economy heading into an abyss – is evidence that government does not work and that Obama is incompetent. For Noonan, actual difficult practical tasks most adults understand are complex to grapple with – how to prevent a Second Great Depression, how to police thousands of miles of border, how to stop an oil leak deep in the ocean floor – are easy. Just do it. Or be labeled incompetent and doomed.

This is utterly unrelated to the reality I have witnessed these past two years, or the slow catastrophe of misgovernment that really did unfold in the last ten. Maybe that says as much about my cocoon as Noonan’s. But I doubt it. What I have also learned these past few years is that the right seeks merely a narrative to lead themselves out of the hole they dug for all of us. Reality be damned. The job of the rest of us is to insist that reality matters and that these fools be exposed.

Pete Abel adds two additional points:

1. Yes, there’s an obvious and substantial difference between Katrina and Deepwater Horizon. The first was a natural disaster that required a relief effort tailor-made for government intervention. The second is a man-made debacle, requiring specialized expertise to fix; expertise that apparently no one has, although BP seemingly has more than any other entity. Regardless, the current situation makes me more sympathetic to the Bush administration’s travails with the former situation. Both are complex undertakings and those of us who are not directly involved are too damn quick to judge. At least once, possibly more, I suggested the “incompetent” label for Bush, et. al., in the context of Katrina. Noonan does the same for Obama, et. al., in the context of Deepwater Horizon. Increasingly, I believe both characterizations are unfair.

2. In the midst of the Gulf crisis, the President has performed a Solomonesque move. He has ordered “a suspension of virtually all current and new offshore oil drilling activity pending a comprehensive safety review.” He has also balanced that decision with an unflinching commitment to the fact that we must embrace these ventures until petroleum can be more voluminously replaced as an energy source.

“It has to be part of an overall energy strategy,” Mr. Obama said. “I mean, we’re still years off and some technological breakthroughs away from being able to operate on purely a clean-energy grid. During that time, we’re going to be using oil. And to the extent that we’re using oil, it makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources here in the United States and not simply rely on imports.”

Given the Republicans’ drill-baby-drill mindset, shouldn’t they be leaping forward to praise this instance of Presidential discretion?

To be clear: I’m not suggesting the GOP should muffle all criticism. To the contrary: Pointed questions — from both sides of the aisle — are appropriate and necesary to the functioning of the Republic, even (especially) in times of crisis. But wrecklessly fanning the flames of criticism — and yes, I believe, Noonan and like-minded Republicans are being wreckless — is irresponsible and potentially detrimental to one of the GOP’s pet positions.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    bjobotts says:

    More likely comparison is to 9/11 not Katrina.  Safety regualtions should have been top priority to prevent devastating incompetence from proven environmental terrorists.  Katrina damge could have been prevented with regulation so the marsh lands weren’t destroyed beforehand and the pumps regulated.  Same with BP.  Greed is BP’s Allah. Bush failed to respond and then was incompetent in response whereas Obama jumped right in realizing the government was not equipped to respond but had to defer to BP expertise to get a handle on the disaster.  At least Obama is not planning to attack England but is going after the regulatory agencies that should have insisted on safety features.  Same with the mining disaster.  CEOs should be indicted.  It’s all Bush’s Katrina. Republicans are in complete denial about such a disaster as the Bush administration.

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