Kevin Ferris spewed the output of another Dubya wet dream all over the editorial page of the Inquirer today (I won't even bother to link to it or comment on it, since I have better things to do at the moment), but Chris Satullo wrote a particularly excellent column today that everyone really should read that stands directly in opposition to Ferris' nonsense.
Contempt for the job of governing has created problemsAbsolutely. And by the way, Bushco is STILL trying to intimidate scientists (this is a recording, this is a recording...).
By Chris Satullo
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pounded home one of the most potent slogans of all time: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Reagan's axiom sliced through the sloppy thinking and overreaching that had come to plague liberalism. It launched a new political era.
Now, 25 years later, we sit at the exhausted edge of that era. The "blame government" riff is running out of gas, conceptually and ethically.
Now, a corrective statement needs to be pounded home:
If you think government is the problem, you'll have problems governing. People who think government can do no good will be no good at running the government.
Three proper nouns account for the plunge in approval experienced lately by President Bush and the Republican Congress: Iraq, Katrina, Abramoff.
These three fiascoes are linked by a theme: They stem from the mistakes people make when they disdain the notion that skillful governing can improve people's lives.
What are the hallmarks of skillful governing? Well, surely they include listening, building consensus, planning for contingencies, defining the public work to be done, summoning talent and resources equal to the task, monitoring the work to limit waste and error, assessing results with clear eyes, holding people to account.
Katrina was the event that led many Americans finally to grasp how inept their government had been in Iraq.
Katrina was a crisis citizens could grasp, unlike distant, confusing Iraq. Here they could see vividly the same sins alleged in Iraq, sins arising from a failure to take seriously the duty of governing:
Warnings ignored. Plans not made. Clueless paralysis at the cusp of crisis. Cronies indulged in key roles. Resource needs unmet. Spin and blame-shifting substituted for honest assessment.
In both Iraq and the Gulf Coast, the waste and chaos that have plagued reconstruction can be traced to ideological contempt for the job of governing.
Much has been made of the no-bid contracts lavished uncritically on companies such as Halliburton and Fluor. It's a mistake, though, to see this only as Dick Cheney and others feeding old pals and favored donors.
Even if Cheney had never run Halliburton, even if these companies never donated a dime to his party, he would do the same things. He's acting on a deeply held but flawed principle: Business will always and everywhere be more effective than government.
He just can't grasp that good governing involves more than tossing the car keys and credit card to the titans of industry and getting out of the way. You have to distinguish public interest from corporate interest, shape the work accordingly, monitor it carefully, and refuse to indulge bad work.
The nation is run by people who savor power but disdain governing. The Abramoff scandal shows the wages of that combination. It also underscores why turning public works over to corporations often produces poor results for taxpayers.
If you assume government is too inept to do anything useful itself, then you reduce its role to dispensing contracts to the companies that "get things done." This turns sleazy deal-brokers like Jack Abramoff into VIPs.
Once you're there, abandon hope that corporations will do public work well. Businesses work efficiently because smart customers and strong competitors spur them.
But the contemptuous culture of cronyism turns government into the dumbest customer around. Pressure for results evaporates when corporations can keep their elected customers happy simply by tossing around junkets, campaign donations, and promises of well-paid sinecures down the road.
Thus the slogans about government ineptitude become self-fulfilling. They invite the incompetence of shrugged shoulders, even as they drive smart, dedicated people away from public service.
Republican activists sense how Katrina and Abramoff have exposed the limits of their ideology. That's why they now are desperately, hilariously spinning FEMA's fumbling and Congress' scandals as proof that government can't be trusted.
No. What can't be trusted is the arrogant crowd now governing so badly. The damage they've done will take a generation to undo.
Right now, it's hard to spot any replacement crew capable of the cleanup.
But the first step in summoning better leaders to the fore might be to toss Ronald Reagan's exhausted slogan onto the scrap heap of history, where it belongs.