Our Government In A Nutshell

Via Drum, a Republican criticizes the current administration:

It’s hard for a program staffed mainly by folks in the industry to impartially conduct oversight of the industry

The scandal du jour involves too much chumminess between universities and the student loan industry, but he could be talking about any regulatory body in today’s government. Any doofus could anticipate that swapping hacks for oversight will lead to dysfunction. I guess we should take it as a good sign that a select few people have learned from experience what common sense should have told them in advance, but I really don’t. You can’t fix the kind of stupid that prevents these people from anticipating the obvious. On some new issue, with some new government, they will do it again.

The point transcends one party or another. George Bush’s party affiliation had nothing to do with why I could tell more or less from day one that his reign would be an unmitigated disaster. I simply had to apply the rule that any time you remove oversight from a system and swap in hacks with an interest that supercedes simply doing the job right, dysfunction follows like water flows downhill. Set your watch by it.

In that vein I think Fester has a salient concern:

[W]e are not in a healthy political environment. This poisoning of the body politic has provoked an immune response so that the emerging dominant coalition is the sane versus the insane. This coalition will be extremely beneficial to the Democratic Party in the short to medium run, but if this is the political discourse for the next half dozen election cycles than the self-correcting and limiting mechanisms of government and governance will be suspended, therefore increasing the probability of Democrats doing really, really, dumb things.

Sure, I’m thrilled to know that the GOP seems dead set on throwing its electoral future down the Iraq hole. Since my policy preferences dovetail with the Democrats almost all of the time I won’t complain if Dems govern until crazy people stop running the Republican party. For me, the major caveat is the crucial role that opposition parties play in the body politic.

It would be silly to pretend that the principles that I describe here apply to one party but not the other. In my view, certain things need to happen in the near future if less hackish Dems don’t want to find ourselves on Tom Maguire’s ledge.

First on my list, the House and Senate Ethics committees need to get off their asses and sanction someone*. Who doesn’t really matter to me. It could be nothing but Democrats for all I care. Set the bar so low that only one in five investigations lead to an actual sanction, if that is what it takes to create a sense that bad acts or smelly innocent acts will bring an invitation to testify in front of Tim Johnson or Stephanie Tubbs Jones. The next president needs to fully reverse the Bush standards of transparency and conflicts of interest in civil service. Working with Congress and a departmental Inspector General looking over your shoulder is a time-consuming pain in the ass, but I can safely say in principle and from recent experience that competent work will not get done any other way.

(*) This might seem insensitive to Sen. Tim Johnson, who is still in therapy recovering from a brain hemmorrhage. Oh well. Isn’t there a way to discipline someone by conference call? Microsoft NetMeeting seems like it should work for that sort of thing.






40 replies
  1. 1
    Tom Hilton says:

    Any doofus could anticipate that swapping hacks for oversight will lead to dysfunction.

    Not the first time it’s happened, either. St. Reagan was a big fan of fox-in-the-henhouse government (James Watt, anyone?). In other words: it isn’t just a Bush thing; it’s inherent in the current Republican philosophy.

    First on my list, the House and Senate Ethics committees need to get off their asses and sanction someone. Who doesn’t really matter to me. It could be nothing but Democrats for all I care….The next president needs to fully reverse the Bush standards of transparency and conflicts of interest in civil service. Working with Congress and a departmental Inspector General looking over your shoulder is a time-consuming pain in the ass, but I can safely say in principle and from recent experience that competent work will not get done any other way.

    Agree wholeheartedly with this. Oversight is there for a reason, whatever the executive supremacists want to believe.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Paul L. says:

    Why no mention of the several “questionable practices” in the student loan industry?
    i.e.
    Universities getting kickbacks from the student loan lenders?

    Where do you work Tim F?

  4. 4
    Tim F. says:

    Breathe into a bag, Paul. It’s the third sentence of my post.

    Also, unless you want a vacation from the blog I suggest you avoid questions about my life outside of blogging. My anonymity may be a pretty thin veneer, nonetheless I am not interested in thinning it any further.

  5. 5
    Dungheap says:

    Not only are industry hacks heading up regulatory agencies, but the latest Bush changes (pdf) to how adminstrative regulations are issued only further cement politcal hacks into the rule-making process.

    Specifically, the Bush change a requires that each agency head designate a presidential appointee within the agency as a “regulatory policy officer” who can control upcoming rulemaking activity in that agency.

    Not only are the agency heads complete hacks, but now the White House has politically appointed henchmen at the center of the rulemaking process, a process that was previously left to carreer staff and experts in the field, to ensure that the White House line is followed.

  6. 6
    Punchy says:

    therefore increasing the probability of Democrats doing really, really, dumb things

    The probability is 100%. It’s not the person–it’s the position. Anyone, of any political stripe, becomes corrupt and jaded after a long enough stint in power.

    This is why I give John Cole so much (well-disguised) respect–he’s realized that it’s not his party that is inherently corrupt…it’s the members of it. And to save it, they must get out of power for some time to rebuild and reconstruct it. The Dems will take over for 4,6, 8 years, become dirty, get voted out, and the cycle continues.

    It’s just unfortunate that the R’s became this dirty; I never foresaw this much malfeasance on every level of every gov’t dept.

  7. 7
    Zifnab says:

    Since my policy preferences dovetail with the Democrats almost all of the time I won’t complain if Dems govern until crazy people stop running the Republican party. For me, the major caveat is the crucial role that opposition parties play in the body politic.

    The one virtue of handing power almost unilaterially to the Democratic Party is that the Democratic Party is anything but lockstep in policy decisions and ideology. The Blue Dog caucus and the Out of Iraq caucus could not be farther apart. The CBC does not hold the same interests as the AFL-CIO and the conservative dems routinely buck from the liberal base on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

    Right now we’ve got a number of true liberal Congressmen and a number of Republican Lites. That hasn’t really changed since ’94. We just happen to have more Democrats in general, which gives the party committees and chairmanships that would otherwise land in the laps of Republicans.

    But even after another ’06-style shutout, I doubt Democrats will suddenly fall into the DeLay-style trap. There’s just too much disparity and too much they don’t agree on.

    My anonymity may be a pretty thin veneer, nonetheless I am not interested in thinning it any further.

    Tim F is Batman.

  8. 8
    jeff says:

    Have you heard about Iacocca’s trashing of Bush and Cheney in his new book. Excerpt here.

    Charlie used to tell me, “Remember, Lee, the only thing you’ve got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don’t know a dip of horseshit from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you’ll never make it.” George Bush doesn’t have common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites. You know—Mr.they’ll-welcome-us-as liberators-no-child-left-behind-heck-of-a job-Brownie-mission-accomplished Bush.

    Former President Bill Clinton once said, “I grew up in an alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world—and I like it here.”

    I think our current President should visit the real world once in a while.

    I’m pretty sure Iacocca is not a card carrying, liberal, Democrat.

  9. 9
    Tim F. says:

    Jeff,

    I removed some dashes from your blockquote so that it doesn’t bork the margins.

  10. 10
    jeff says:

    Tim,

    Thanks and sorry. I was wondering what happened.

  11. 11
    Jake says:

    Our President in a Nut shell:

    “Yes, the president has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz and his work at the World Bank,” Perino said. She said Wolfowitz has worked “to lift people out of poverty around the world.”

  12. 12
    Rome Again says:

    You can’t fix the kind of stupid that prevents these people from anticipating the obvious.

    You would think that those Republican Congresspersons would have foreseen this coming a few years ago… but the train kept a rollin’. I have come to the conclusion it’s not so much mere stupidity as intentional manipulation.

  13. 13
    Rome Again says:

    “Yes, the president has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz and his work at the World Bank,’’

    Of COURSE he does. Can we go back to governing instead of slumber parties, please?

  14. 14
    fester says:

    Punchy — I am arguing that the structural incentives matter and if the Dems get virtually unlimited power against a weak and crazy GOP, then dumb things will happen. If both parties actually function as decent governance parties and look to make the other side be cautious of doing tremendously dumb things by the threat of allowing those dumb things to force electoral losses, the probability goes down a bit. This second condition needs a reasonable and numerous GOP to occur.

    I agree, in the long run unchecked power held by whomever is to be severely distrusted —- it is just that there is a chance for a serious and needed check on power in this scenario.

  15. 15
    Paul L. says:

    Also, unless you want a vacation from the blog I suggest you avoid questions about my life outside of blogging. My anonymity may be a pretty thin veneer, nonetheless I am not interested in thinning it any further.

    Sorry, I thought you mentioned your employment in previous post.

  16. 16
    Tom Hilton says:

    You would think that those Republican Congresspersons would have foreseen this coming a few years ago… but the train kept a rollin’. I have come to the conclusion it’s not so much mere stupidity as intentional manipulation.

    Hell yes. As I’ve said before, the wheels coming off the engine–that’s a feature, not a bug. Anti-government ideologues get uncontested control of government; use it (unsurprisingly) a) to enrich themselves and their contributors, and b) to maintain their hold on power; and when the whole thing is run into the ground they get to say “see? Government is bad.”

    Heads they win, tails we lose…

  17. 17
    Rome Again says:

    Anti-government ideologues get uncontested control of government

    This absolutely explains why Republicans are bad for America.

    Awesome post TH.

  18. 18
    Tim F. says:

    Paul,

    I probably got a bit snappier than I should have, so let me explain in more detail. Shielding my identity from readers isn’t really my primary concern, except in the unlikely case of a stalker or deranged reader or something like that. My primary concern is the trend of google-searching job applicants, and the fact that as a researcher I prefer not to take the admittedly minor chance that something I write will prejudice one policymaker or another towards my lab or my department. I’m not a privacy nut so much as I’m just trying to interfere with a google search.

  19. 19
    Zifnab says:

    /Attempts to boil Tim F’s rabbit.

  20. 20
    Dreggas says:

    Also, unless you want a vacation from the blog I suggest you avoid questions about my life outside of blogging. My anonymity may be a pretty thin veneer, nonetheless I am not interested in thinning it any further.

    {in his best impression of Michael Corleone }

    I’m giving you this one chance to ask me about my business…

    (his wife) What is your business?

    (Corleone) Don’t you EVER ask me about my business again

    Ok paraphrased and what not but it made me chuckle….

  21. 21
    RSA says:

    Anti-government ideologues get uncontested control of government

    Yeah, this is the main issue. Should we trust anyone in government who associates with people like Grover Norquist, who wants to drown government in a bathtub? I don’t think so. You don’t see Democrats, for example, advocating that the director of Greenpeace should be put in charge of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, and yet Republicans seem to do something analogous almost every chance they get.

  22. 22
    Dreggas says:

    RSA Says:

    Yeah, this is the main issue. Should we trust anyone in government who associates with people like Grover Norquist, who wants to drown government in a bathtub? I don’t think so. You don’t see Democrats, for example, advocating that the director of Greenpeace should be put in charge of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, and yet Republicans seem to do something analogous almost every chance they get.

    Couldn’t have said this better myself. Each side has their nuts but one side currently is chock full of them…

  23. 23
    Rome Again says:

    Couldn’t have said this better myself. Each side has their nuts but one side currently is chock full of them…

    I agree, totally.

  24. 24
    Fe E says:

    Couldn’t have said this better myself. Each side has their nuts but one side currently is chock full of them…

    I’d go a bit further, not only is one side full of them, they are driving the bus.

  25. 25
    Rome Again says:

    Sorta OT here, but check this out.

  26. 26
    Tsulagi says:

    the emerging dominant coalition is the sane versus the insane. This coalition will be extremely beneficial to the Democratic Party in the short to medium run

    That sounds about right.

    Prior to GWB, I was neither a registered Dem or Pub. Wasn’t all that political. Always voted, but the only time I contributed to political campaigns was through the $3 check-off on my tax return. No one ever called me a “lefty.” Then.

    Then came 9/11 and the Pub leadership, happily assisted by their 28%ers in the short busses, moved the left/right dividing marker somewhere to the right of Pluto. And on the right side of that marker was the Twilight Zone, where something like the renaming of fries and toast was an important, vital blow for truth, justice, and the American way. To gain entry to the cool side on the right, you had to check your brain at the door. Anybody who didn’t was an anti-Christian, radical Islam supporting, hate-America traitor. I’d tell them to go fuck themselves, but they’re usually already busy doing that in their self-affirming circle jerks.

    Oh, and a special wish for you bin Laden. If there is a god, you will get your 72 virgins. Sooner, rather than later. Plus all the virgins insatiably horny, and all hung like a horse.

  27. 27
    Dreggas says:

    Fe E Says:

    I’d go a bit further, not only is one side full of them, they are driving the bus.

    Which makes it even worse.

  28. 28
    Punchy says:

    except in the unlikely case of a stalker or deranged reader or something like that

    That’s got “Andrew” written all over it….

  29. 29
    Dreggas says:

    Prior to GWB, I was neither a registered Dem or Pub. Wasn’t all that political. Always voted, but the only time I contributed to political campaigns was through the $3 check-off on my tax return. No one ever called me a “lefty.” Then.

    I voted D in the 2 elections, had not been really politically active either, and I refuse to check the button on my tax return but, yeah the past few years helped me to become more active. Funny thing is growing up where I did people always worried more about the Dems doing all the shit the GOP is now doing regarding stripping of freedoms etc. how deluded they were and in many cases still are.

  30. 30
    Zifnab says:

    Funny thing is growing up where I did people always worried more about the Dems doing all the shit the GOP is now doing regarding stripping of freedoms etc. how deluded they were and in many cases still are.

    The scary ones are the people who still are afraid of Hitlery and the totalitarian Democratic regime of strongarm politicians and MiBs throwing good, honest Americans into indefinite prison detention on a whim.

    Like you can’t flip on your TV and see exactly what you’re afraid of happening on a daily basis. But IOKIYAR I guess.

  31. 31
    John S. says:

    In my view, certain things need to happen in the near future if less hackish Dems don’t want to find ourselves on Tom Maguire’s ledge.

    Maguire’s commenters are morons.

    Their thoughts range from “Clinton did it!” to “I don’t care, as long as Republicans are in control.”

    Nothing like seeing a bunch of dead-enders on display.

  32. 32
    chopper says:

    Our President in a Nut shell:

    well, he does count himself a king of infinite space…

  33. 33
    RSA says:

    well, he does count himself a king of infinite space…

    You are one erudite chopper.

  34. 34
    Chad N. Freude says:

    a presidential appointee within the agency as a “regulatory policy officer” who can control upcoming rulemaking activity in that agency

    I believe the technical term is “commissar”.

  35. 35
    Dreggas says:

    Zifnab Says:

    The scary ones are the people who still are afraid of Hitlery and the totalitarian Democratic regime of strongarm politicians and MiBs throwing good, honest Americans into indefinite prison detention on a whim.

    Like you can’t flip on your TV and see exactly what you’re afraid of happening on a daily basis. But IOKIYAR I guess.

    Ya know, the mistake I made in this whole thing was ever trusting government period. I don’t trust either side to get everything right all the time.

    In fact the big lament back where I am from now was and is “and all this time I thought it was the dems who were going to do this shit.”

    Of course that has its upsides because now they are seeing the knife cuts both ways. At the same time I see people on the left who used to be gun opponents having a renewed respect for the second amendment.

    Go figure.

    Bottom line is absolute power corrupts absolutely. Somewhere some way someone will overreach, this isn’t the first example even if it is the most egregious. However the major lesson here is that while imperfect there is a need a for a strong minority party on either side to preserve checks and balances within checks and balances. It goes back to the Yin and Yang of things.

    It’s a freaking tight rope to be sure but it needs to remain that and that balance needs to be worked towards, I am not talking centrism I am talking just plain old fashioned common sense balance. Everything in moderation kind of thing without going off the deep end one way or the other.

  36. 36
    mclaren says:

    …the emerging dominant coalition is the sane versus the insane.

    Not quite. The emerging dominant coalition is the sane sensible people who can see the world around them and know the basic facts about the reality we live in (like the fact that the earth rotates around the sun) versus the insane halfwitted ignorant incompetents who not only believe crazily uninformed crap like “Adam and Eve rode to church on dinosaurs every Sunday,” but think they can actually prove it from the fossil record.

    You know — these guys:
    http://templeofpolemic.proboar.....1130126466

    The big question is…where did all these brain-damaged ignorant crazy mother*#%@ers come from??? Friends of mine educated in the heart of the Bible Belt in the 1940s and 1950s say that they were taught evolution and it wasn’t even controversial. Everyone just accepted it as solid science. But now, 60 years later, they’re building creation museums and banning the teaching of evolution in those very same states.

    Y’know…it’s like that scene right at the end of the film THE SAND PEBBLES, where Steve McQueen’s been shot and he’s lying against a stone wall waiting for the Chinese soldiers to kill him.

    “I made it. I was home. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!?

  37. 37
    Krista says:

    My anonymity may be a pretty thin veneer, nonetheless I am not interested in thinning it any further.

    Tim F is Batman.

    /sprays coffee at monitor.

    So Tim, if you’re Batman…what the hell does that make John?

  38. 38
    Rome Again says:

    So Tim, if you’re Batman…what the hell does that make John?

    The butler?

  39. 39
    mrmobi says:

    The butler?

    I KNEW it! John Cole is Michael Caine.

  40. 40
    mrmobi says:

    Thanks, McLaren, for that link to the Esquire article.

    Some excerpts:

    It is the ultimate standard of Idiot America. How does it play to Joe Six-Pack in the bar? At the end of August 2004, the Zogby people discovered that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than with John Kerry. Now, how many people with whom you’ve spent time drinking beer would you trust with the nuclear launch codes? Not only is this not a question for a nation of serious citizens, it’s not even a question for a nation of serious drunkards.

    Nothing that the administration of George W. Bush has done has been inconsistent with the forces that twice elected it. The subtle, humming engine of its success—against John Kerry, surely, but most vividly against poor, cerebral Al Gore—was a celebration of instinct over intellect, a triumph of the Gut. No campaigns in history employed the saloon question with such devastating success or saw so clearly the path through the deliberate inexpertise of the national debate. No politician in recent times has played to the Gut so deftly.

    So it ought not shock anyone when the government suddenly found itself at odds with empirical science. It ought not shock anyone in the manner in which it would go to war. Remember the beginning, when it was purely the Gut—a bone-deep call for righteous revenge for which Afghanistan was not sufficient response. In Iraq, there would be towering stacks of chemical bombs, a limitless smorgasbord of deadly bacteria, vast lagoons of exotic poisons. There would be candy and flowers greeting our troops. The war would take six months, a year, tops. Mission Accomplished. Major combat operations are over.

    “Part of the problem was that people didn’t want the analytic process because they’d be shown up,” Richard Clarke says. “Their assumptions would be counterfactual. One of the real areas of expertise, for example, was failed-state reconstruction. How to go into failed states and maintain security and get the economy going and defang ethnic hatred. They threw it all out.

    Finally, we saw the apotheosis of the end of expertise, when New Orleans was virtually obliterated as a functional habitat for human beings, and the country discovered that the primary responsibility for dealing with the calamity lay with a man who’d been dismissed as an incompetent from his previous job as the director of a luxury-show-horse organization.

    And the president went on television and said that nobody could have anticipated the collapse of the unfortunate city’s levees. In God’s sweet name, engineers anticipated it. Politicians anticipated it. The poor *chocolate* in the Ninth Ward certainly anticipated it. Hell, four generations of folksingers anticipated it.

    And the people who hated him went crazy and the people who loved him defended him. But where were the people who heard this incredible, staggeringly stupid bafflegab, uttered with conscious forethought, and realized that whatever they thought of the man, the president had gotten behind a series of podiums and done everything but drop his drawers and dance the hootchie-koo? They were out there, lost in Idiot America, where it was still a beautiful day. Idiot America took it as a bad actor merely bungling his lines. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition. For Idiot America is a place where people choose to live. It is a place that is built consciously and deliberately, one choice at a time, made or (most often) unmade. A place where we’re all like that statue of Adam now, reclining in a peaceful garden of our own creation, brainless and dickless, and falling down on the job of naming the monsters for what they are, dozing away in an Eden that, every day, looks less and less like paradise.

    Good stuff. It’s a long piece, but well worth the time. I’ve read the Clarke book and Fiasco. Those two pieces contain a frightening description of an administration which knows the answers it wants, and will accept nothing else.

    As others have said here, pass the popcorn.

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