All politics may be tribal, but governance certainly isn’t. At the risk of sounding like David Broder, certain aspects of management – from disaster relief to appointing competent lawyers at the Justice Department – are far removed from our day-to-day ideological battles. This isn’t to say ideology is unimportant; simply that managerial competence and a steady hand at the tiller should also factor into evaluating the candidates.
In this sense, Obama’s cerebral approach to problem-solving is downright reassuring. Eight years later, McCain’s tendency to abruptly shift course is more than a little reminiscent of Bush’s fetish for decisive action. What’s more, voters have begun to notice too.
If nothing else, the past few weeks have given us a window into the managerial prowess of Obama and McCain. Obama, for all his faults, has remained preternaturally cool and collected. McCain, on the other hand, veers wildly from one crisis to the next, still unable to hone in on a coherent message. In the wake of the Palin debacle, his personnel selection also leaves a lot to be desired. If “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” was the final nail in the Bush Administration’s coffin, “Lipstick for Pitbulls” may become the slogan for McCain’s impending demise.
Moreover, competence (or lack thereof) has a tendency to implicate ideology. Bush’s response to Katrina didn’t exactly epitomize small-government principles, but the narrative coming out of New Orleans was that cold-hearted Republicans don’t care about black people. Regulations may not be the answer to our financial woes, but who’s going to pay attention to the data when one candidate projects calm while the other runs around like a chicken with its head cut off? Part of rebuilding the Republican brand means finding leaders who can successfully apply conservative principles to various problems. So far, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is the best (only?) contemporary example of conservative competence. McCain/Palin 2008? Not so much.