Obama's favorite henchman, David Axelrod, deployed the famed Incompetence Defense on behalf of the embattled President during an MSNBC appearance on Wednesday. That's the hot new line from Obama apologists: he's so incredibly inept that he can't be held responsible for anything his Administration does. He golfs, he raises money, he takes a lot of vacations... there's not much time left over for management. He learns about the crazy misadventures of his subordinates by watching TV news, like the rest of us.
What an amazing transformation! Once upon a time, Barack Obama was the Czar of Czars, the genius super-president better qualified to run any industry than all of its CEOs put together. The diverse wisdom of 300 million Americans was nothing compared to his central planning genius. He knew what kind of energy we really needed, no matter how loudly we clamored for the fuels that work. He knew more about medicine than any doctor. He couldn't discuss any subject without referring to himself several times per minute. He would transform us into an entirely different nation through his force of will. He didn't always choose to drink beer, but when he did, he preferred Dos Equis.
And now, in the space of a week, Obama has been transformed into a clueless turnip who only knows what CNN decides to tell him. He lives in a perpetual state of surprise, able to do nothing but shake his head sadly as each new scandal rips across Washington. He views his own Administration the way Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Within five days of the IRS scandal breaking, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post had dubbed him "President Passerby."
So along came faithful Axelrod to peddle this new line, on a network noted for routinely hailing Obama as a demigod. He therefore decided to present the Incompetence Defense as inevitable - no one could do Obama's job well, because it's just too big. "When you're POTUS," Axelrod argued, "there is so much you don't know, because the government is so vast."
Careful, Dave! That kind of Tea Party talk gets you audited by the IRS.
Of course, the concept of managerial responsibility rarely assumes the personal involvement of managers in every aspect of the operation. The chief executive of a company doesn't personally visit every office, or monitor the daily output of every employee. Authority is delegated, while responsibility flows to the top.
Has the federal government really grown so large as to be unmanageable? Consider the current narrative of rogue IRS agents in several regional offices conspiring to persecute conservative groups due to their own political preferences. Is there anything IRS employees in the tax-exempt organizations unit should be trained more quickly and firmly to avoid doing? The idea that several people could "spontaneously" betray the integrity of the agency's core mission at the same time is as risible as the idea that they could get away with it for years, right under the noses of their supervisors... who, we have now learned, were cheerfully signing off on a torrent of quickly approved applications for liberal groups. You would think even the most witless of them might have noticed that nothing from a conservative group ever seemed to reach their desks.
Let's indulge the "low-level rogue agents" narrative for a moment. It would not be evidence of an agency that grew until it was unmanageable. Any reasonably competent supervisor should have been able to swiftly detect and halt the abuses. Instead, this would be evidence of an agency that had grown into a living organism, gaining the will and capacity to protect its own interests. If they weren't Obama campaign operatives, why were these "low-level agents" - in several different offices - spontaneously deciding to target Tea Party groups? It would be because they saw those groups as a threat to the Leviathan State that nourishes the Internal Revenue Service. ObamaCare made the IRS larger and more powerful than ever, but these Tea Party types wanted to repeal it. That made them enemies of the State.
One of the oldest themes in science fiction is the computer system that grows until it becomes self-aware, and turns against its human masters. We've got Skynet on the Potomac now: a central government that has become the most powerful special interest in the world, lobbying itself through various appendages to make itself larger. It uses its power to manipulate voters, spending our money to organize political coalitions to protect itself from reform or restraint. It does not respect dissent - it destroys enemies. The media that should be monitoring its excesses has become its voice.
It's so huge that it knows individuals, corporations, and even smaller government entities will surrender to it without a fight. It gets something whenever it makes demands - bipartisan "compromise" always ends with Leviathan gaining some weight - so it makes a lot of demands. It grows automatically, year after year. If its growth is slowed, it howls in rage and pain, as though it had been "cut." If it actually is cut, it bleeds firemen, police officers, and teachers... then grins and dares you to cut it again.
There's no way for individuals to influence a huge, remote government in any meaningful way. They must subordinate themselves to disciplined political collectives to get Leviathan's attention at all. There is no way to escape from it, no behavior it does not regulate or tax. It makes "offers" that cannot be refused. It cannot be held to account for its broken promises. None of its efforts can fail badly enough to be repealed in full.
The problem is not that the federal government is too big to manage. The problem is that it's too big to restrain. It has its own interests, and they are so clear that bureaucrats don't have to be ordered to pursue them. The fantasy of clean, accountable, transparent Big Government was always silly. Obama's defenders are in the course of dealing it a fatal blow, by arguing that he really is the best man for a job that nobody can possibly do.