A Referendum on Competence | National Review Online

Incompetence personified.

Incompetence personified.

Is this election really about nothing? Democrats might like to think so, but it’s not.

First, like all U.S. elections, it’s about the economy. The effect of the weakest recovery in two generations is reflected in President Obama’s 13-point underwater ratings for his handling of the economy.

Moreover, here is a president who proclaims the reduction of inequality to be the great cause of his administration. Yet it has radically worsened in his six years. The 1 percent are doing splendidly in the Fed-fueled stock market, even as median income has fallen.

Second is the question of competence. The list of disasters is long, highlighted by the Obamacare rollout, the Veterans Affairs scandal, and the pratfalls of the once-lionized Secret Service. Beyond mere incompetence is government intrusiveness and corruption, as in the overreach of national-security surveillance and IRS targeting of politically disfavored advocacy groups.

Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities. The overstated assurances, the ever-changing protocols, the startling contradictions — the Army quarantines soldiers returning from West Africa while the White House denounces governors who did precisely the same with returning health-care workers — have undermined government in general, this government in particular.

Obama’s clumsy attempt to restore confidence by appointing an Ebola czar has turned farcical. When the next crisis broke — a doctor home from West Africa develops Ebola after having traversed significant parts of New York City between his return and his infection — the czar essentially disappeared. Perhaps he is practicing self-quarantine.

But there’s a third factor contributing to the nation’s deepening anxiety — a sense of helplessness and confusion abroad as, in the delicate phrase of our secretary of defense, “the world is exploding all over.”

Most voters don’t care about the details of Ukraine, the factions in Libya, or the precise battle lines of the Islamic State. But they do have a palpable sense of American weakness.

This was brought home most profoundly by the videotaped beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. It wasn’t just the savagery that affected so many Americans but the contempt shown by these savages for America — its power, its resolve. Here is a jayvee team (Obama’s erstwhile phrase) defying the world’s great superpower, daring it to engage, confident that America will fail or flee.

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