Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Government That Wasn't There

When the nightmare is over in 2009, how will history view the national car wreck of the Bush years?

The media and cyberspace will teem with theories: Were we victims of Ideology or Incompetence—or something more complicated?

The case for Ideology begins with the neo-cons’ pre-election blueprint for beefing up our armed forces and showing the rest of the world what a superpower can do. After 9/11, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were free to put theory into practice, and we went into Iraq.

On the domestic front, with a servile Congress, the White House pushed every regressive nostrum--cutting taxes for the ultra-rich, privatizing Social Security, defunding programs for the poor and near-poor. But after the tax cuts, their hearts really weren’t in it.

At this point, Ideology became moot, except as a campaigning tool. Most of the ensuing wreckage, from post-war blundering in Iraq to the disastrous aftermath of Katrina to outing Valerie Plame to the mess at Walter Reed to the unfolding Justice Department scandals, was the result of Incompetence so staggering it can’t be explained by simple stupidity.

The missing ingredient is Inattention. Bush and Rove were never really engaged in governing. They were too busy campaigning.

Every misstep can be traced back to their focus on keeping power and getting more rather than actually using it to run the country. In that case, it’s easy to understand their desperation to hold onto Congress. If they would fire their own prosecutors for not helping them hurt Democrats, they were right to fear losing control.

The Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers is a clue. We now learn that Miers, who had to withdraw for being totally unqualified, recommended firing all the U.S, Attorneys rather than just a few, a zealotry that was too much even for Bush and Rove, not because it was wrong but out of fear of how it would look.

When critics talk about politicizing the Justice Department, they are not going far enough. This Administration politicized everything. The nation was one big frat house for those who belonged, and all the rest were outsiders who didn’t count. (Ask the Iran Study Group.)

Whoever takes office in January 2009 will find a backlog of non-governance going back eight years. It won’t be easy to catch up.

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