A piece by Kevin Drum reminds me of what will probably be the enduring lesson of the Bush years – people who don’t believe in government do a crappy job when they try to run it. You can look practically anywhere in government today and find the same story – managing the occupation of Iraq, science, women’s health, disaster management. Officials in environmental and corporate oversight always seem to have long histories as lobbyists and short to nonexistent experience in management. Nominating Harriet Miers to The Supreme Court is about the most clear-cut and undeniable show of contempt for government institutions imaginable. They simply don’t care enough about the job, even initiatives that they like, to make sure that it gets done right.
Kevin reminds us that for decades the VA hospital network served as the poster boy for conservative arguments that government managed health care doesn’t work. Then, in the 90’s, that changed. The Clinton administration set out to prove the skeptics wrong. Rather than throwing money at the problem they simply cleaned up its management, as documented in this Washington Monthly story. By the Clinton-Bush handoff in 2001 the VA had become a model organization.
The lesson here is fairly simple. People who use our present circumstances to argue that government can’t manage its way out of a paper bag are either fooling you or fooling themselves. Of course government breaks down when it’s run by people who don’t care to do the job right. Contrary to the bill of goods that ideological partisans want to sell you, that is far from an argument that government shouldn’t take the lead in fixing problems. Rather it is a rock-solid case for putting people in charge who care about doing the job right and have a decent sense of how to go about it.
Remorseful Bush supporters should reflect on this point to avoid making the same mistake twice. To use my own example, in 2000 election I could have gone several ways. Al Gore’s rock solid eco credentials had my vote, but not so much the rest of the Democratic field. I would have thought hard about voting McCain. For me the one non-starter was candidate Bush, for reasons that should be extremely important today – his history of escaping responsibility betrayed a deep sense of entitlement and a near total lack of personal responsibility. His business history showed a near total lack of either management skill or good judgment, depending on whether his investments were doomed from the start. The campaign’s dishonest tax cut salesmanship implied a deep faith in ideology over facts.
These details matter. It is these character flaws, and not personality trivia like Bush’s genial breeziness that overwhelmed the race coverage, that have inexorably driven America to our current state. The substantive details of the president’s character, and through his leadership the entire administration, explain why the government is no longer capable of handling a hurricane, a war or the care of its own veterans. This is a recurring problem for Republicans and right-leaning moderates whose chosen leaders have an ingrown bias against the idea of government solving problems. Ideological opposition to the idea of government makes it that much harder to internalize the mechanics of how to do it right.
I wrote off George Bush in 1999 because of his disastrous management history as much as his ideological rigidity. For me the choice was easy. It will be harder work for the folks who respond to the siren song of a candidate’s ideological reliability to recognize in advance that he will wreck the country and hang around their neck like a lead albatross for years or decades to come.
More, from the leftwing hacks as BusinessWeek.
via Steve Benen:
Stacy Beardsley, a soldier’s wife released this week from the hospital after a grueling surgery, watched two men in pressed military uniforms walk steadily to her front door. ‘Tell me he’s just hurt,’ the Indiana woman told the pair, according to family friend Marilyn Piersdorf. ‘Well, they couldn’t tell her that,’ Piersdorf said. Her husband, Army Sgt. William ‘B.J.’ Beardsley, who recently lived in Coon Rapids, died Monday in Diwaniyah, Iraq, 80 miles south of Baghdad, after a roadside bomb went off near his vehicle. The 25-year-old soldier had re-enlisted, in part, for the health insurance to cover his wife’s medical bills. He died the day she left the hospital.
The greatest healthcare on Earth.