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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Let us now praise competence.

The praise is overdue. Competence is like the dull, but reliable husband a woman spurns for some sexy stranger with a flashy car. Then she finds out her new fellow has the manners of a pig, the depth of a wading pool and absolutely no interest in helping her study for her real estate license. Suddenly, dull and reliable don’t seem nearly so bad.

We find ourselves learning that lesson on a national level for the second time in eight years.

The first was in 2005. We had been seduced by compassionate conservatism that shot from the hip and reacted from the gut. Then we discovered none of that could get water and food to a major American city in the wake of a devastating storm.

In 2008, we were smitten with hope and change, with urbane cool and thoughtful pragmatism. Now we learn none of that can build a website that works worth beans.

So yes, let us now praise competence.

Some will call it unfair to compare the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina with the Obama administration’s botched rollout of health care reform. They will note that as Team Bush dithered and “Heckuva Job, Brownie” tried to assemble the proper wardrobe for managing a crisis, Americans were dying. By contrast, for as much as people may have wailed, “Kill me now!” as it crashed, froze and mangled their information, Healthcare.gov didn’t actually kill anyone.

But the observation misses the point. If these two debacles are unalike in impact, they are much alike in one critical regard: The people in charge saw this moment coming, had time to prepare and failed.

Consider: Katrina became a hurricane on Aug. 25 and entered the Gulf of Mexico the next day. It smacked the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Yet, even with that much lead time, it wasn’t until Sept. 2 that the first convoy of supplies reached the stricken city of New Orleans.

Similarly, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010 with a provision allowing uninsured Americans to begin purchasing insurance online beginning now, October 2013. Yet, as this month draws to a close, would-be users of the website still find themselves stymied, frustrated and unable.