Obama and His Critics

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The current rumor circulating among Beltway types is that Barack Obama is intent on replacing Larry Summers with a female CEO, presumably to blunt critisism that his economic team is both all male and all academic. Jonathan Bernstein:

This is a remarkably stupid plan, if true. It will not “disarm” critics who say that Obama is reflexively anti-business, any more than having Bob Gates at Defense “disarmed” critics of Obama’s approach to terror — indeed, actually expanding the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and killing a lot of terrorists didn’t slow down those who were intent on claiming that Obama was some sort of secret bin Laden sympathizer. It doesn’t work like that. Critics will say what they will say, and it mostly doesn’t matter, and at any rate there’s nothing you can do about it. What you can do, however, is have a well-run White House and do your best to have a well-run government.

I agree with Jonathan’s general point that partisan critics are going to snipe at you no matter what. Still, I’d push back just a little bit on this. First, I think that keeping Bob Gates at Defense and stepping up the Afghanistan war has slowed down some of his critics. Nothing will shut them up completely, of course, and no one expects that. But guys like Bill Kristol have probably been a good deal less vocal than they would have been if Defense had gone to Richard Danzig or Michèle Flournoy, Pentagon reform has probably gone a lot more smoothly, and Republicans in Congress have been more tractable. Overall, I’d say that holding on to Gates has worked out exactly the way Obama expected.

As for having a well-run White House and a well-run government — well, I’m all in favor of that. But Obama has had a pretty well run White House and has also been pretty dedicated to getting policy right. The result has been bleak. The stimulus probably would have done him more good if he’d paid less attention to wonky ideas like spreading out the tax cut over time, and healthcare would have been more popular with both the lefty base and the general public if he’d paid less attention to policy and more attention to politics. Frankly, having a well-run government doesn’t buy you much of anything.

That said, I agree that the whole female CEO thing is pretty stupid, if true. But that’s not because this kind of thing can’t have a positive effect. It’s just because this particular thing is unusually vapid.

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