Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Monday, March 05, 2007
Policy Incompetence
Wow. I hadn't ever really thought about it this way, but this commenter on Josh Marshall's blog is spot on (h/t Digby):
What's really at issue here is the extent to which problems with the military, specifically, and the government, generally, are a result of policy. The common explanation for the catastrophic results of many of the Bush administration's initiatives (from Iraq to New Orleans and back again) is that they are the result of "incompetence."

Incompetence, the lack of capacity or skill, is ultimately an exculpating trope. It insinuates that the plan, or effort, was sound and could have succeeded had it been competently carried out. Moreover, the incompetent are in way less liable: their lack of ability lets them off the hook. Thus, "incompetence" insulates the actors from accountability and leaves the policy itself unscathed.

My personal opinion, which has recently been reinforced by much of what I read in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is that the Bush disasters are a result of the administration's policies and not of some failure to effectively carry them out.

No one says, retrospectively, that Calvin Coolidge's failure to help the victims of 1927's Mississippi River flood was a result of incompetence. No one says that Mellon, with his inaction and insistence that the Great Depression would burn itself out through 'liquidation,' was incompetent. Both of these positions were wholly in keeping with the policies of the Coolidge and Hoover presidencies, policies that were not discredited until Roosevelt's victories and the institution of the New Deal.

The problem, a problem that Waxman seems to be keenly aware of, is that as long as the government retains the same kind of policies, the nation will continue to suffer the same hardships. It is not until the beliefs that inform the ways in which the Bush administration runs the government are firmly linked to their consequences that the nation will stop voting for politicians who promulgate, and enact legislation based on, those creeds.

These policies will not (again) be discredited until they are tied to their reprehensible results. Insisting on the 'incompetence' of the Bush administration turns attention away from this linkage between policy and result. In fact, it insulates the policies while discrediting the men who are trying to implement them. It, thus, sets the stage for those policies to be enacted again.
That is exactly true. The Bush administration has not been incompetent. They've been extremely competent in carrying out various policies that have been expounded by conservatives for years.


FEMA: Conservatives have always contended that government shouldn't be very involved in disaster relief. Rather, relief should come from the private sector, NGO's like the Red Cross and churches. That's worked out well.

Privitization: Government should be privitized at all levels. Thus, Halliburton's hand in the military/Iraq war, the current mess brewing with Walter Reed, Katrina relief and desire to have schools and other public institutions be private. Put another way, the government purse (the bad guys) is open to corporations (the good guys) to do their worst without any oversight.

Diplomacy: Conservatives have always hated the U.N. and been repelled by any policies that are anything but muscularly rigidity. We see how well that's worked out.

Deficits: They don't matter, the country doesn't need to pay for it's needs. Simply starve the beast and drown government in the toilet. Except that people want services.....

Incompetence: Even where a lack of skill was evident, it occurs because of the wholesale endorsement (at a greater level than ever before) of cronyism and political payoff. Since government isn't valued, it's used by conservative politicians as payola without concern for the impact on the quality of the services.

I'm sure you and others can think of many other examples, but it's clear that the problems that have ensued from the Bush administration have been due to policy implementation, not incompetence. It would be a good thing for the future debate of the failures in the Bush administration focus on the real problem rather than giving conservatives with idiot policies an "out" in blaming Bush for being stupid of incompetent as a leader.

The problem is not that the Bush's are unusually bad at governance, although they are. It's that the Republicans seem to have created a con game in which they take power, steal the country blind, allow their craziest ideologues to wildly experiment with theories that only radical fringers think have a remote possibility of success and basically run amuck until they are forced to stop. Then they harrass the Democrats as they clean up the mess, setting themselves up for a resurgence by making it very clear that unless they are given another chance to mess things up they will make the political system even more ugly than it already is.