Wednesday, February 04, 2009

HUBRIS

President Obama has had a little trouble getting his feet under him post-inauguration. He has had difficulty with some of his appointments, difficulty keeping true to some of his campaign rhetoric, and his pronouncements about foreign affairs have not been met with the welcome that one would have assumed now that Bush was no longer president. India has invited the President to butt out of the Kashmir issue, Europe responded quite predictably to the "Buy American" provisions of the stimulus bill, necessitating an awkward retreat. The confidence and adulation of the campaign and run-up to the inauguration are fading, as it seems the President is discovering that the job is much harder than it appeared from the campaign trail.

What is evident here is a trait of human nature that afflicts nearly all inexperienced persons. Many people think that they can do another person's job, because what they know of it without experience is typically quite superficial. It is tempting to think that the airline pilot just takes off and lands the plane while the autopilot does the bulk of the flying, or think that a respiratory therapist just provides nebulizer treatments, or that an engineer just plugs numbers into equations that he looks up in books. Many people fall into the easy conceit that can do other people's jobs as well or better, and this trait has become part of the vernacular of everyday life: kibitzer, Monday-morning quarterback, arm-chair general, sidewalk supervisor, etc. There is no shortage of people who think that they are a lot smarter than they actually are, until reality brings the fact home to them.

The tendency to underestimate tasks until one is actually responsible for their performance leads to other errors of thought, for instance, the conclusion that any competent person should be able to perform the job better than the person against whom the critic judges his own hypothetical performance. If difficulties are encountered by someone in their job, it must be due to the someone, rather than the job.

This particular infirmity of thought seems to have afflicted the most devout of President Bush's detractors. It is seemingly inconceivable to them that the difficulties encountered by President Bush could have been the result of unseen complexities, difficult circumstances, good faith mistakes or simply bad luck. No, it is important for the hard core critic to attribute any shortcomings of the Bush administration to bad character. It must be shown that anyone who disagreed with the progressive view of Bush's policies did so out of malevolence, with the implication that Bush's critics not only favored better policies, but were also better people. This is the foundational principle behind the cry to prosecute Bush administration officials. Bush's people had to be scoundrels, because it should have been so easy to do a better job.

Now President Obama is finding out that not only is it not easy to do a better job, it is not easy to do the job at all, especially without meaningful executive experience. The detainees at Guantanamo are not characters in a video game that disappear when the game is turned off. The easy moralizing that plays well to sympathetic audiences becomes a burden when one's associates can not live up to it. Foreign governments actually expect more than "understanding" and will not sacrifice their interests to our good intentions.

President Obama might be excused some of the recent mis-steps of his young administration, but one suspects that these stumbles arise from the naive perceptions of a talented man who doesn't know nearly as much as he thought he did.

1 comment:

Evil Red Scandi said...

Wow. This means that no matter how many videos I've seen of Ron Jeremy, I probably can't do his job. Even if I keep yelling "Yes we can!" This is... shattering.