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Monday, January 16, 2006

How To Fail In Government Without Really Trying

I've preached before that all Americans should demand competent government -- effective government, government that succeeds in accomplishing what it sets out to accomplish. Liberals and conservatives can legitimately debate whether government should be big or small. But Americans of all stripes should demand that government, big or small, be effective. Effective government is the first and sturdiest plank of the Neoprog platform.

Under the current administration, the government succeeds at almost nothing it sets out to do. It spends money like a drunken 1970s Democrat, embraces global imperialism and foreign wars with the misplaced enthusiasm of a William Randolph Hearst, prostitutes itself to donors and lobbyists with the promiscuity of Ulysses Grant, and does less for the average American than Cal Coolidge. It has done almost nothing skilfully except gain office.

I should not be shocked, shocked at the fact that the Bush administration is so bad at governing, because there is nothing in its ideological underpinnings that would enable it to govern well. While it has abandoned traditional conservative values by expanding federal spending and involvement in state affairs, and by embracing the neoconservative passion for nation-building and military imperialism, many of its key players still subscribe (inconsistently) to the ultraconservative tenet that Government does almost nothing well. As Ronald Reagan famously said in his first inaugural address, they believe "government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem." Rather than empowering the government to succeed, as traditional liberals would, or reining in "the big bad Government", as traditional conservatives would, this administration is creating a government that is both big AND bad. We should not be surprised that such people, who fundamentally believe government is inept, will fall victim to "the soft bigotry of low expectations." They expect government to fail, and so it does.

And what colossal failures. This is an administration that was advised to focus on terrorism, was warned al Quaeda wanted to hijack airplanes, and knew that al Quaeda members were in the U.S. learning to fly airliners but not land them -- yet did nothing to prevent 9/11 from happening, and claims it was not preventable.

This is an administration that, following 9/11, knew that creating a competent interagency communication system was the top priority of law enforcement and emergency services organizations -- but had (and still has) no such system in place, which disabled FEMA and Homeland Security from coordinating relief efforts when a hurricane predictably hit New Orleans.

This is an administration whose spokesman, Gen. Erik Shinseki, told Congress accurately that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed in Iraq, not to win the war but to secure the peace. That advice contradicted Donald Rusmfeld's "small army" gospel and made members of Contress question the wisdom of such a huge venture, so the Administration retired Gen. Shinseki early, told Congress to disregard his testimony, assured the nation that "Mission Accomplished" would come in mere weeks, and deployed too few troops -- and then had to send ill-equipped, ill-armored National Guard units overseas, for multiple tours of duty, when Gen. Shinseki proved right and not all Iraqis greeted us with candy and flowers. [SUPPLEMENT, JAN. 21, 2006 Even Colin Powell now agrees with this assessment: "[Powell said last week] that in retrospect he felt the Americans should have committed more troops to the Iraqi invasion and ensured that law, order and a functioning government were in place when Saddam's regime collapsed... [and that] 'when the insurgency started, we didn't act quickly enough to try to stop it'. But, he added, 'that's all history... the more important issue is what we do now'." (Funny, that phrase "in retrospect", since the administration was expressly advised to have more troops, and to prepare for insurgency, before the war even began.)

Again and again, the Government under this administration pretends to undertake great things, makes predictable mistakes, professes dismay at the bad results, then shrugs its shoulders and blames us for expecting too much from our government.

The latest news in this sad litany comes from the front lines in the War On Terror. We already knew that the President has authorized the National Security Agency to spy on the telephone conversations of Americans without obtaining the search warrants that the Fourth Amendment and the FISA law require. The claim that such spying isn't illegal is a lie: Congress passed a law setting forth a procedure for spying on terrorists here in the U.S., a President signed that law, and the Constitution obligates the President to abide by it. Similarly, the claim that warrants aren't readily available is a lie: FISA warrants are available on short notice, are granted in over 99.9% of cases (only 5 ever denied out of over 19,000 applications!), and can even be sought retroactively when time is short.

And now we learn that the warrantless spying was not merely illegal and unnecessary, but actually detrimental to our ability to fight terrorism:

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a "vital tool" against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved "thousands of lives."

But the results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.

"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."


This is no way to run a country. The few remaining conservatives in Congress are powerless to rein in the "big, bad government" neocons. The Democratic leadership in Congress lacks the moral fiber or strategic sense to demand accountability; instead of calling for government to actually do things, and do things well -- the traditional Democratic position -- they snipe from the shadows, watch the polls, and play to what they perceive as the "middle" of the electorate. We are not well represented by either side.

Here's a crazy idea: what if some prominent members of Congress stood up and said, plainly and loudly and most of all repeatedly: Government isn't the answer to all our problems, but it can sure as hell help out with some of them. And when government fails to protect us from foreseeable enemies, fails to provide competent relief in emergencies, and invades our liberties to no good end, then that government is not worthy of the American people, and needs to be replaced.

Now, was that so hard? Repeat 10,000 times and call me on the first Tuesday of November.

*******************

SUPPLEMENT, JAN. 18, 2006: Some may take issue with my assertion, above, that the warrantless NSA spying was unconstitutional and illegal. Attorney General Gonzalez, after all, is defending it as fully legal -- and, as the man who also opined that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and no longer applied to America, he should know, right?

So for those who may think The Neoprogressive is a thinly-veiled beard for just another liberal dove, here's some new input, via U.S. Newswire, from people with unassailable conservative credentials, people I generally detest but whose voices will serve to show what a deeply bipartisan -- what a fundamentally American -- thing it is to be outraged at what the NSA is doing:

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, chairman of PRCB, was joined by fellow conservatives Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR); David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, in urging lawmakers to use NSA hearings to establish a solid foundation for restoring much needed constitutional checks and balances to intelligence law.

"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9-11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," said Barr. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."


When I'm saying the same thing as the man who lead the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, the architect of disabling, "drown the baby in the bathtub" tax cuts, the founder of a group that thinks every American should own a fully automatic rifle, and two other arch-conservatives, then at least no one can assuse me of knee-jerk liberalism. The best proof that the ideas I'm advocating here at The NeoProg are deeply American and can be embraced equally by liberals, conservatives, and libertarians is that, in fact, they are.

4 Comments:

Blogger wet pants said...

when government fails to protect us from foreseeable enemies, fails to provide competent relief in emergencies, and invades our liberties to no good end, then that government is not worthy of the American people, and needs to be replaced.


Definitely needs to be replaced.

And I will repeat this to you during the first week of November, but then, you weren't really talking to me about this one,huh?

1/17/2006 4:19 PM  
Blogger Thersites D. Scott said...

Heck, I'm talking to anyone who'll listen and respond, even if you are the choir! I appreciate your responses.

1/17/2006 4:40 PM  
Blogger Ontario Emperor said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. However, I don't necessarily agree with your comparison of the Bush Administration and early 20th century fascist governments (you named the Nazi government in Germany in particular). In the fascist governments, it's the government that controls servile private enterprise. In the current administration, it's more apt to say that private enterprise controls a servile government. For example, Bush isn't imposing his guest worker program on private companies - the private companies are begging him to implement it.

1/17/2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger Thersites D. Scott said...

Ontario Emperor: great point. I dislike glib comparisons between Bush and the Nazis, and I may not have made myself clear enough.

My point really was that when the people are suffering (e.g. during a depression), they naturally turn to a paternal government to help them. Sometimes that results in a version of liberal semi-socialism (FDR); other times it results in a militaristic/corporatist national socialism (fascism). My goal is to have neither; that thought is here, where I wrote:

Want to know the difference between Progressivism and classic Political Liberalism? The economic climate. In good economic times, people can afford to be generous. Those are the best conditions for Progressivism, or Neoprogressivism. In bad economic times, people can't afford to be generous; rather, they're in desperate need of it themselves. Those are the best conditions for government paternalism. And, in some cases, the same conditions can lead to fascism, as in Weimar Germany. Now, I'll choose liberal paternalism over fascism during a Depression: FDR instead of Hitler. But neither a welfare state nor a fascist state is on my wish list for America.

But when I look at that spectrum of option for nations in distress, and also look at the troubling economic indicators that suggest, to me anyway, that a very significant downturn is in the offing, it's clear to me that the version of paternalism this administration would offer would resemble the fascist model much more than the liberal one. It would take more economy-shattering events to get us there, but I'm still paying attention.

Does that clear things up any?

1/17/2006 5:17 PM  

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