In the wake of the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, President Obama's inner circle is taking a pounding.
Several anonymous Democrats recently dumped on Obama's White House political aides in the pages of The Hill newspaper, suggesting they should be fired for dropping the ball on their boss's top domestic priority.
Ron Fournier took a more direct approach. In a National Journal piece titled "Fire Your Team, Mr. President," Fournier argued that Obama will never regain his standing with the public unless he overhauls his staff "so thoroughly that the new blood imposes change on how he manages the federal bureaucracy and leads."
The "off with their heads" approach is the just latest manifestation of longstanding criticism that Obama's group of advisers is far too insular, which in this case resulted in utter embarrassment for the administration.
But this overheated advice is half-baked for a few reasons.
Yes, the HealthCare.gov rollout is a headache for the White House, but early problems are typical of new government programs. In particular, ObamaCare's hiccups are reminiscent of Social Security's at the beginning. The eventual government audits may find instances of individual incompetence, but even if so, there likely won't be evidence of a systemwide governmental breakdown warranting mass firings.
In fact, the Obama administration has a rather impressive managerial history, pulling off an $800 billion stimulus free of graft and boondoggles, executing the auto industry bailout, and providing scientific expertise to stop the BP underwater oil gusher. Any assessment of the Obama administration's competence should factor in all it has done before demanding across-the-board career sacrifices.
Furthermore, panic firings breed more panic. Jimmy Carter learned this the hard way in 1979. Suffering from low approval ratings and a sputtering agenda, Carter sparked a fresh wave of support and renewed grassroots spirit with his daring "Crisis of Confidence" speech. But a few days later, he snuffed out his own momentum by demanding the resignation of his entire cabinet.
One Carter-era reporter recently told Politico, "Wholesale sacking of cabinet officers usually comes off as desperation," and fed the perception of Carter as a "floundering leader."
Contrast that to Franklin Roosevelt, who was suffering his lowest approval ratings in 1939 as fears circulated that the Social Security Board had failed to collect necessary wage data from employers and would be unable to cut millions of checks. Did FDR start firing people left and right? Nope. As his top Social Security man recounted decades later, "He wasn't interested in it. He was bored stiff. I couldn't have kept him interested in any of my woes. He laughed them off."
Some people today say Roosevelt was a pretty good leader.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Scottish independence is another financial crisis waiting to happen
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- 10 things you need to know today: September 1, 2014
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- These real-life Rosie the Riveters changed the face of labor
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- The keys to succeeding with a job recruiter
Subscribe to the Week