September 11 was a catastrophic failure of the Bush administration in part because they failed to put the evidence together in order to prevent the attacks. But, and this is very understated, they really savored their soaring approval numbers after the fact. Approval they didn’t earn or deserve. (With Katrina, I believe they were counting a similar script playing out. As we all know, it failed.)
When it comes to the recession, the Obama administration has, by most accounts, prevented a broader worldwide economic disaster. EJ Dionne writes:
But because the cataclysm was avoided, this is an invisible achievement. Many whose bacon was saved, particularly in the banking and corporate sectors, do not want to admit how important the actions of government were. Antigovernment ideologues try to pretend that no serious intervention was required.
An “invisible achievement.” This is the downside of competence.
I once read that when bad things happen to people, they’re always on the lookout for the possibility of the next bad thing. When Bush was president, we were hyper-aware of his incompetence and it always seemed like the next bad thing was just a Pet Goat or McCain birthday cake away.
But with this administration I suspect there will be many achievements that will happen without great fanfare because competence tends to be largely seamless. This is the way it ought to be, of course. We shouldn’t have to worry about whether our president is a complete nincompoop.
The political problem with this, as Benen and Ezra Klein write, is that we might not be fully aware of what the administration has really accomplished in just these first months (the list is long, by the way).