Bob Franken: Competence comeuppance

The Barack Obama presidency is in fundamental trouble. According to a new Fox News poll, more Americans than not question his ability to be effective in his job. This time it’s not Fox anti-Obama hysteria. The result tracks what other surveys are finding.

According to this one, not only does a majority consider the Obama administration less capable than Bill Clinton’s, but a 48 percent to 42 percent plurality finds it less competent than George W. Bush’s. Furthermore, 55 percent say the current leadership has made the nation weaker, versus 35 percent who feel the country is now stronger. Given the ridicule heaped on W.’s reign, the results are devastating for Obama.

Not that the perceptions are so difficult to understand. We’ve been treated to a regular drip-drip-drip of administration embarrassments, or really, mistreated. Where to start? The Obamacare debut is as good a place as any. Talk about fecklessness. And now we have the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal.

Republicans swarm all over these messes like insects on honey, but the president and his people make the gorging even sweeter with their own inept public relations.

What would possess the president’s press secretary, Jay Carney, to volunteer that his boss first learned of the VA mess from news reports? And when it came to the health-care meltdown, his handlers rushed out to say he had no idea the rollout was in cybershambles. By now, shouldn’t the crack White House communications shop have figured out that its desperate efforts to shield the president from blame leave an impression that this is a chief executive who is in over his head, certainly not on top of things.

We’re witnessing their cluelessness still again, with the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. It was a deal with the Taliban: The deal was one Bergdahl for five senior terrorist leaders held at Guantanamo Bay. The handoff was done suddenly, without the legally required 30-day notice to Congress. Sgt. Bergdahl, fairly or unfairly, has been called a deserter. The Republicans were certain to pounce, handily overlooking that they had been among those constantly demanding that somehow he should be returned to his family. And yet, ever since the president made his proud announcement from the White House, he and his people are scrambling to do damage control. A couple of days later, he could only sputter in exasperation: “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, all right? That’s — that’s par for the course.”

It is par for the course. The anti-Obama partisans know that their relentless, often shameless pounding on anything and everything he does will cause wear and tear. And yet, he seems to cling to the naive belief that each time, the opposition will rise above politics.

While we’re at it, can someone justify the fact that the narrative was controlled by the Taliban? They are the ones who released images of the exchange. Did it even occur to our folks to shoot video of the handover?

As the polls show, the president’s enemies have succeeded in eroding his credibility. Their immediate goal is winning the upcoming election so the GOP can take total control of Congress. Then the real prize is victory in the presidential race two years hence.

Their biggest problem is a set of economic and social policies that hearken back to the turn of the century ... the 20th century. They’re also encumbered by a collection of outlandish potential candidates. It’s no wonder that the party chairman wants to limit the number of debates. That’s a way of avoiding the clown show that was such an embarrassment last time around.

Better to peck away at the current occupant of the White House and leave an impression that Barack Obama is incompetent. The polls show that their strategy is working. Unfortunately, the president and his people are making it easier.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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