Monday, July 31, 2006

Contempt for Competence

In the face of an increasing swell of desire for competent governance, Jonah Goldberg yearns for a return to the right ideology over competence. (Bush has the incompetence, alright, just coupled with the wrong ideology.)
WASHINGTON is atwitter with 2008 Presidential talk.

One particular qualification has emerged above all others: competence.

On the liberal side this is hardly new. Democrats have been the party of government, so their shtick is to claim they can steer the leviathan state around any rocky shoals to the coastline of nirvana.

He goes on to list the Republicans who are now running on results, competence, and problem-solving ability. And that's a bad thing!

That's because competence gets in the way of ideology. The ideology is that government should be small so it doesn't interfere too much in people's lives. Jonah desires that the government be run incompetently as a means of destroying itself. Which is a form of competence, I suppose. If the goal is to reduce the federal government's size and influence, the most efficient means of attaining that goal is to destroy it from within.

When government works to actually better the lives of a greater number of people - as it has done since the New Deal - it's harder to convince people that government is the Big Bad. But a lot of people, including former ideologues, are apparently starting to realize that the real Big Bad isn't government's size, but government's actions. You can have a large government run well or badly, and you can have a small government run well or badly.

The neo-cons, Jonah acknowledges, are running the large government extremely badly.
Indeed, there is a hunger for competence out there. In foreign policy, the less-than-turnkey operation in Iraq and the wiliness of the Axis of Evil have created a longing for sober-eyed realism. Indeed, at no point in my lifetime has amoral Kissingerian realpolitik had greater appeal on both sides.

Yeah, it's not that that Bush Administration is stunningly incompetent, it's that the Axis of Evil has turned out to be far more wily than expected. Even though their "wiliness" was actually very predictable behavior. And I'm not all that familiar with Kissingerian realpolitik, but I think it had to do with using death squads and covert military action to reshape parts of the world for the financial and military benefit of the United States. Which is exactly opposite the realpolitik of the Left that opposed the Iraq war and further meddling in the ME, and many other places, for short- to mid-term political and monetary advantage.
After Hurricane Katrina, a host of avowedly “post-partisan” commentators have focused on a widespread desire for, in the words of the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, a “party of performance.”

The prevalence of this thinking is best illustrated by its penetration into the GOP. The most salient arguments for one candidate over another hinge on the question of competence.
This is the conservative ideology. Government shouldn't solve people's problems. Government actually helping to solve people's problems, therefore, is a bad thing. And politicians running on their competence to actually help solve people's problems is a worrying sign. As Goldberg continues:
Until recently, the conservative objection to such “competence” worship was that it steals an intellectual base; it takes it as a given that the government is the solution to our problems. This is the opposite of the Reaganite view that the government, more often than not, is the problem.

The right ideology must take precedence over competence. The problem with this bullshit ideology is that, except on certain occasions when individuals are dealing with each other, the solution to every problem every American has is to go through a government. A government, by the way, specifically created by the people, for the people, and of the people to solve problems.

Have an unresolvable dispute with a neighbor? Go to court. Feel threatened by a neighbor? Call the police. What's the conservative alternative, shoot 'em in the face at the least provocation? For some, yes. Need a system of any kind which regulates behavior so we don't all bump into each other all the time? Create laws through legislation, adjudicate them and enforce them. That's all government, baby, whether on the Federal, the state, or the local level. Most problems are in fact solved by a government.

Of course, some governments, regardless of size, just create more problems, but that's because they're incompetent (see Fort Collins). Generally, the larger the population, the more complex the society, the more laws are needed to help regulate relations.

It's been my theory that the reason people who live in heavily populated areas are Democrats and people who live in sparsely populated areas are Republicans is a direct reflection of this reality. Dense populations require more regulations.
And while it is surely true that we live in times that require considerable policy savoir-faire, it’s worth remembering how we got here.

George W. Bush didn’t run as a small-government conservative in the first place. He ran as a “reformer with results,” and his big-government conservatism was his attempt to make good on that promise.

Well, to be fair, Bush was lying. It wasn't big government that got us where we are today, it was incompetence paired with an ideology that shuns facts and reality. Sort of like Reaganism. In fact, let's talk about Reagan's small-government respect for a second. Let's talk about breaking the law for political expediency, trading arms to terrorists, funding secret wars. What about using the might of the Federal government to reshape the world for the financial and power gain of a few? I guess Goldberg's right, though; conservatives don't want to use government to solve people's problems, they want to use it to create more problems for the world.
Some may claim — with some merit — that today’s longing for a problem-solver on a white horse is a response to Bush’s record. But this gets the causation backward. And the great irony is that Bush’s most enduring legacy, after the War on Terror and his heroic Supreme Court picks, will in all likelihood be the political vindication of Michael Dukakis.

It was Bush's desire to be a problem-solver on a white horse that caused Bush's record? Every politician wants to be a problem-solver in some way. Reagan wanted to solve the "problem" of big government. But that didn't stop him from abusing the power of the big government to serve his particular ideology. At least Reagan, however, was pretty competent at getting his message across.

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