Not Their Job

A recent commenter wrote,

What I find baffling is how this Administration, along with the Republican party, are unable or unwilling to affect change despite holding all the cards. They control all three branches of government (yes, one could make arguments about Judicial, but they don’t make laws… yes, that too can be argued… I digress), but lately they seem content to lay blame on everyone else for the nations current woes/issues.

Well, NorthOf49, I’ve been running this comment through my head and I have an answer. Actually, a bunch of answers.

First, I think the Bush Administration and its congressional enablers came into power with a short list of goals that they reached pretty efficiently. These goals included providing “tax relief” for the wealthy, deposing Saddam Hussein, and consolidating power so that the Dems could never take it back. That last one may be unraveling (time will tell), but the first two items are well in hand. And they’ve made great progress on other goals, such as lowering the cost of labor and scrapping environmental protections that get in the way of exploiting resources for profit.

In the words of PZ Myers, “The Republican agenda is to turn the United States into a third-world shithole.” And you’ve got to admit they’ve gone a long way toward reaching that goal.

However, whenever We, the People, desire other actions by our government (like, maybe, not turning the U.S. into a third-world shithole) the Bushie motto is — that’s not my job.

For a glimpse into the Republican brain, catch this bit snipped from an Adam Nagourney-Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times article:

One person who met Mr. Rove said he attributed Mr. Bush’s problems more to external events, in particular Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, than to anything the White House did wrong.

That sentence may be a great litmus test of political proclivity. If you think it’s perfectly reasonable, you may be a rightie.

E.J. Dionne has a great column in WaPo today:

Is President Bush the leader of our government, or is he just a right-wing talk-show host?

The question comes to mind after Bush’s news conference this week in which he sounded like someone who has no control over the government he is in charge of. His words were those of a pundit inveighing against the evils of bureaucrats.

“Obviously,” said the critic in chief, “there are some times when government bureaucracies haven’t responded the way we wanted them to, and like citizens, you know, I don’t like that at all.” Yes, and if you can’t do something about it, who can?

After more than five years in office, President Bush seems weirdly oblivious to what his job actually is. I wrote about this recently here. We see time and time again — from the morning of 9/11 to Katrina to his I’ll leave it to future Presidents to clean up my mess in Iraq statement — that in times of crisis, when we need someone to take charge, set priorities, rattle cages, and otherwise make stuff happen, our President retreats into passivity. He reminds me of a rich kid who spills milk and waits for the maid to clean it up. It doesn’t even occur to him he could do the job himself.

And then there’s the incompetence factor. Shortly after Katrina I wrote a series called “Adventures in Problem Solving” — Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV. This series could have been called “A Chronicle of Staggering Ineptitude.” It documents that even when Bush gets a notion there’s something he ought to be doing — in this case, problem solve — he doesn’t know how to do it. And his administrative “team,” such as it is, isn’t any better at either problem solving or carrying out solutions.

I’ve ranted many times that in his entire sorry-ass life Dear Leader has not been much called upon to actually accomplish anything of a tangible nature, like build a bridge or put a product on the shelves. But if you look at the people around him you might notice they’re mostly “idea” people who have spent their careers flitting among government, academia, and right-wing think tanks. Even Dick Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton, had an unusually “hands off” role in running the company —

There was nothing improper about the unusually limited role expected of Cheney as head of a Fortune 500 company. He was recruited as CEO not long after a fortuitous five-day fishing trip in B.C. with several CEOs, including his predecessor at Halliburton, who was impressed by Cheney’s fireside tales of how he had reorganized the Pentagon. That revamp, which called for a 25 per cent reduction in personnel and the closing of 800 bases, laid the foundation for the allegations Cheney and George Bush would make in the 2000 campaign of how the Clinton-Gore team had run down America’s fighting strength.

At Halliburton, Cheney would be paid a total of $45 million in salary, bonuses, stock-option profits and stock-sale proceeds for his services. The principal function of this novice CEO was to be a high-priced lobbyist, using his contacts at the Pentagon and with kings, emirs and oil ministers to drum up business. The actual running of the $9 billion enterprise was delegated to Cheney’s future successor, David Lesar, who later explained, “On major types of things, I would tell Cheney what the decisions were.” [David Olive, “Dick Cheney’s Brilliant Career,” The Toronto Star, July 26, 2002]

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being an “idea” person, but at some point you need to work with “do” persons to get things done. But Bushies don’t seem to grasp the “do” thing. In fact, it seems to me that Bushies, and righties as a whole, lack appreciation for processes, procedures, and institutional structures — those evil bureaucracies — as well as professionalism in general. As someone who’s done some big-project managing I look at FEMA in the aftermath of Katrina and see a total institutional breakdown. Things like established procedures and institutional memory are what allow big, far-flung teams of people to work together in a time- and cost-efficient manner to accomplish tangible goals. Without them, even hard-working and intelligent people will blunder.

In the case of FEMA, it won’t do to have people trying to figure out what their job responsibilities are and who to go to for what after the disaster. But I’m sure that’s what was happening after Katrina.

Speaking of FEMA — this takes us to what we might call the priority problem. From an editorial in today’s New York Times

Sometimes it’s hard to understand just how Michael Chertoff understands his title, secretary of homeland security. Take this week, when Mr. Chertoff appeared before executives of the chemical industry, whose plants remain one of the nation’s greatest vulnerabilities more than four years after 9/11. Mr. Chertoff did not chastise the industry for failing to protect chemical plants adequately. He proposed weak federal safety standards. He did not even fully embrace a recently introduced bipartisan Senate bill that would create meaningful standards.

Instead, Mr. Chertoff seemed perfectly content to defer on key security matters to an industry that contributes heavily to Republican campaigns but has proved to be dangerously unwilling to take public safety seriously.

I bet you can see how this ties back to the turning the United States into a third-world shithole agenda.

It should be obvious to anyone concerned about public safety that the nation needs strong, mandatory government rules to reduce these dangers [of a terrorist attack on a chemical plant]. Yet in his speech, Mr. Chertoff favored leaving crucial security decisions up to the chemical companies — a formula that puts too much weight on not inconveniencing industry, and too little on protecting the public.

Mr. Chertoff said requiring the industry to use safer chemicals would be “mission creep” — even though that would be precisely the kind of precautionary step that should be a core part of his department’s mission. Mr. Chertoff also spoke approvingly of “pre-emption,” the notion that if federal chemical plant safety rules are adopted, they should be written in a way that will invalidate tougher rules adopted at the state level. Pre-emption is high on the industry’s wish list, but it is not in the public interest.

You see the priority — handing out candy to Republican campaign contributers is more important than public safety. In such matters the Bushies are not incompetent at all. They’re quite good at it, in fact. We, the People might think Michael Chertoff ought to be directing his attention elsewhere, but from a Bushie perspective he’s doing just fine.

But I’ve been rattling on about the White House and ignoring Republicans in Congress. Part of the reasons Republicans in Congress are brazenly incompetent is, of course, that they’re working under the direction of the White House. But not everything is Bush’s fault, as Paul Krugman noted in a recent column (I’ll look for a public link). The out-of-control spending is more Congress’s fault; they’re the ones who write up the appropriations bills. And it’s stunning that the same people who complained about “big government” spending for so long became the biggest, most pork-filled spenders in history when it became their turn to write the bills.

The most obvious reason for this phenomenon is that, as most pork is designed to please campaign contributors and the home folks, we must assume Congress critters place getting re-elected over doing the right thing. Democrats are guilty of this, too. And with a no-veto president in the White House, there is no one to constrain Congress from its own worst impulses.

But it strikes me that the Republicans who for years complained about their minority status are acting like unsupervised children now that they’re in charge. With no adults around to tell them to eat their vegetables, do their homework, and go to bed on time, congressional Republicans have been living on pizza and twinkies and staying up all night to watch zombie movies. Let’s hope that after the midterm elections Mom and Dad will come back and make them behave.

13 thoughts on “Not Their Job

  1. Bush is trying to send out a subliminal message. How many times have you heard him use the word “progress” in the past week. He knows that people are parrots and his base will start spreading the “P-word”. I mean the word progress not “p” for prick or the other p-word.

    He did point out tax breaks as one point of progress (and we know what that is about as maha points out above), his two appointees to the Supreme Court. I can’t remember everything else. But one think that I hate is when he points to progress in Iraq as women now having the right to drive. That is worth a lot of deaths, lost eyes and limbs, isn’t it?

    Now, he has the balls to start referring to himself as “The Education President” because he wants to remind people why we went to war and the progress that we are making there.

    The woman from Ohio who is married to someone in The National Guard made me sick. I’m from Ohio originally. She is the one that stood up (may have been in Cleveland) and told Bush that he had it right when he pointed out that the media present only bad news.

    The same woman and her husband were on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball Show” last night. She said that she didn’t plan ahead of time to stand up and make a statement – tell me another story, lady. She said that she just wants a fair and balanced view of what is happening in Iraq.

    She said that she “knows” we are makiing progress in Iraq. Chris asked her how she knew. She said, well, I’m married to a military man and I get information that the average citizen doesn’t know about.

    Give me a break, pony girl. She is just like the fake reporter that was planted in Scott McClellan’s white house briefings who turned out not to even be a reporter but he got access to The White House. Talk about Homeland Security working!!

    She is also like the black man whose name I don’t recall that got paid to talk up an issue. I think it was The No Child Left Behind program.

  2. I was struck by this line from the NYT article:

    Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that without the focus of a campaign, the White House had lost its edge.

    Is that an admission that they really don’t care about governing now that they’ve got the keys to the safe?

  3. Is that an admission that they really don’t care about governing now that they’ve got the keys to the safe?

    Pretty much. But Bush never did care about governing. He spent most of his first term raising money for his re-election run.

  4. When government service becomes a means for acquiring wealth, then government exists only in name. Maybe its less about incompetence and more about the selfish misguided abuse of government. Whatever the case, its certainly clear that whats going on lacks any sense of stewardship on behalf of we the people.

  5. Your point about the idea v. do people is what struck me when I was reading Assassin’s Gate. Here were the big-picture people in Washington who literally couldn’t be bothered to issue a coherent set of commands to the military and civil personnel in Iraq who were williing, nay eager, to implement their agenda. Reminds me of every corporation I’ve ever worked for.

  6. Your point early on that his administration “came into office with a short list of goals that they reached pretty efficiently” is something with which I totally agree. The events of 9/11 obviously gave them all the trump cards they needed to insure that everything they were looking for would just slide through with nary a ripple. And this, I think, is what gives me the most pause as to whether we can really and truly extricate ourselves from this morass in which we have allowed ourselves to be placed. The virtually unopposed implementation of this agenda which we Americans and our elected Representatives have allowed to take place presents, I think, a much larger obstacle to overcome than most average Americans can conceive. While some small cracks have appeared recently in this agenda (the continuing talk of the illegal wiretapping, sinking poll numbers in all area) the basic foundation which allowed this happen is still in place. And those in control are still working daily to insure that every last piece is in place for them before any larger pieces begin to fall off what they have constructed. Even with this small cracking in their creation this does not really insure that things will continue going downhill for them. You can trust that they are doing everything in their power to repair the cracks and maintain the structural integrity of their monstrous creation. And during all this fervent behind the scenes work their minions continue to prop up and knock down straw men such as the “liberal media” and irrelevant comments by Hollywood stars to distract the average, busy working American from what is really the silent destruction of the foundation of their country. We who have raged both internally and externally about what we have seen happening over these last 5 years are looking less like the lunatic fringe now but that is cold comfort to me. The work ahead is long and hard and to be honest, even if we can begin to turn the corner, I can’t say for sure that it will succeed. We as a country are way down an uncharted road. We left no trail of breadcrumbs, the needle on our compass is spinning wildly and we can barely read the map we have.

    We have no choice but to carry on. The incompetence (and that is too mild a term, in my estimation) cannot blind us to the need we have fight for this country’s future. I cannot speak to the motivations of our elected officials. History will have to be the judge of that. But I do know that we, the average citizens, are the only ones who can save ourselves from the bleak future which has been laid out before us by this administration. Call it grassroots or “people power”. The average Joe is who is going to determine whether or not this little experiment called the United States will continue for future generations.

  7. Thanks maha for your response.

    I’ll be curious to see if the mantra that Republican’s (et al) profess to hold dear – accountability, rings true. (That wouldn’t be rhetoric… would it? Nah, not Republicans).

    It must be true, and as such there’s no-one left to blame for the past five-years (and counting) when things like Social Insurance, Medicare, the environment and other necessary components of US society start to crumble and fall (if they haven’t already).

    Clinton (Bill), that convienient right-wing scape goat for all that is bad in this world, wasn’t in office.

    “The Buck Stops Here”…. please. “Pass The Buck”, or “Take My Buck, Please”, is more like it. All 8-Trillion of them (and counting).

  8. Reminds me of every corporation I’ve ever worked for.

    You’ve probably noticed this: As a rule, big shots climb into the ranks of upper management via sales and marketing, or maybe finance, but not product development, manufacturing, or production. Therefore, most people running companies have no clue how their products actually come into being and get on store shelves. Fairies do it in the night, for all they know.

  9. “faries do it in the night for all they know”…
    Danm, I thought it was Disney pixies!

  10. The “idea” vs. “do” distinction keeps appearing when Bush talks about having a “plan” for Iraq. It’s all idea, not actual steps for how to “do” it. And he gets so angry at the suggestion that what he has isn’t really a plan at all, as if he doesn’t have a clue about what a plan looks like. It’s like the Monty Python bit about “How to Play the Flute” – blow at one end and move your fingers up and down at the other. “Make Progress” at one end and “achieve Victory at the other”.

  11. Pres. Fredo went to NorthCom for the FIRST time as Hurricane Rita was approaching.

    USNORTHCOM’s specific mission:

    Conduct operations to deter, prevent, and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories and interests within the assigned area of responsibility (AOR); and

    As directed by the president or secretary of defense, provide defense support of civil authorities including consequence management operations.

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