One thing you learn quickly in business is that the safest thing to do and often the smartest is to under-promise, over-deliver, and be parsimonious with commitments. Obama’s done none of these things, and it all shows an amateur at work whose appreciation for the real world is sorely lacking. Consider this take-down in Harper‘s of all places:
All these maneuvers might seem tactically “smart”: Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the hedge funds contributed mightily to Obama’s election; John McCain wasn’t able to call Obama a peacenik or “soft on Al Qaeda”; and Baucus’s insurance and nursing-home friends weren’t put to any trouble, which would have caused Obama problems with Baucus about other tax matters before the Senate Finance Committee.
But maybe such cynicism isn’t altogether so smart in 2009. Wall Street, unpunished and unrepentant after three decades of recklessness, is poised to embark on new, unregulated financial adventures, such as the issuance of securitized life-insurance policies known as “life settlement” bonds. Rewarded for their failures with huge sums of public money, the newly emboldened casino managers are liable to sink the ship next time, instead of just flooding it.
In Afghanistan, American soldiers are consistently dying in small batches (under orders from their Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader) while Afghan civilians continue to perish in far greater numbers under American and British bombs supposedly aimed at the Taliban. You don’t even have to remember Vietnam or the Russian occupation of Afghanistan to recognize the profound absurdity of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy. Respectable experts, from Edward Luttwak on the right to George McGovern and William Polk on the left to Andrew J. Bacevich somewhere in the middle, have demolished the notion that such a military campaign can succeed in subduing a nationalist or tribal rebellion.
As for Baucus and health care, it’s clear that whatever bill comes out of the Finance Committee, large numbers of Americans will remain uninsured or underinsured. This means that the emergency room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York will continue to overflow with poor children who come for primary care because their parents can’t afford a pediatrician. And it means that America’s industrial corporations will continue to suffer from a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers based in civilized countries where health care is considered a public trust and a right and the government pays the bill.
Does this sound smart? Or does it sound really, really stupid?