The Can’t Do Nation?

And now, ladies and gentleman, a foray into politics. Feel free to ignore this post if that isn’t what you’re into. Attempting to relieve my insomnia, I’ve been pouring over, again, an opinion piece by John McQuaid called “The Can’t Do Nation” that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post. I’ve been thinking for the last week that it’s on to a lot of things. McQuaid asks, troublingly,

Has there ever been a period in our history when so many American plans and projects have, literally or figuratively, collapsed? In both grand and humble endeavors, the United States can no longer be relied upon to succeed or even muddle through. We can’t remake the Middle East. We can’t protect one of our own cities from a natural disaster or, it seems, rebuild after one. We can’t rescue our citizens when they’re on TV begging for help. We can’t even give our wounded veterans decent medical care.

He then moves on to a question with an even more disturbing answer:

What has gone wrong? … Newt Gingrich calls it a “system-wide” government breakdown that includes health care, defense, intelligence and disaster response. He says the … structure of “big government” has, in effect, stopped working. Meanwhile, Democrats (and a growing number of Republicans) take a narrower view, blaming the incompetence of the Bush administration. Both of these shorthand explanations capture a slice of what’s going on without quite getting to the heart of it.

“Incompetence” usually means bumbling, but the Bush White House’s hostility toward the federal bureaucracy has been quite purposeful. The administration has undermined the normal workings of agencies … in part because they generate facts and opinions that conflict with political goals. The White House has also seeded the government with appointees chosen for loyalty and ideological affinity, not competence. All of this has taken a toll on agencies’ ability to process information, devise sound policies and communicate with the public.

That’s not even the most disturbing part. To lay the blame entirely at the hands of the current administration is miss a large chunk of our recent history. The modus operandi of the Bush Administration is nothing new. Think back to 1980. Ronald Reagan was elected president, and he campaigned, at least in part, on the idea that government could not do things right and should not be relied upon anyway. After eight years, his immediate political heir, George H.W. Bush, while not most likely not exactly subscribing to that view himself, still had to “stay the course” in order to get elected and maintain Reagan’s base of support. Any chance Bill Clinton’s presidency had to change that state of affairs collapsed in 1994 when the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and others, again decrying both big government’s ability to do anything effectively and the wisdom of allowing it to do so, took control of both houses of Congress.

If you accept this premise (and I admit it is certainly a debatable premise, but one I believe is pretty spot-on), then it follows that since 1981, our government has been largely in the hands of people who don’t believe that government is capable of functioning effectively or of doing much of anything right or, for that matter, don’t believe that government should be permitted to do much of anything in the first place.

Let’s put this into personal and business terms. For example, I’m a vegetarian. As such, I would make a very lousy CEO of, say, McDonald’s. If I had control of that company, it stands to reason I would enact policies that would ultimately destroy it, because I believe the company is capable of nothing good. From an investor’s standpoint, it is obviously stupid to put someone like me in charge of McDonald’s. Yet, this is exactly what we have done with our national government every time we have elected officials who believe that government is inherently inept or, worse yet, is some kind of sinister beast that needs to be weakened to the point where it can be “drowned in the bathtub,” to paraphrase Grover Norquist.

Fast forward to 2007, and guess what? We now have a government that doesn’t seem to be capable of either functioning effectively or of doing anything right. The reason “the structure of big government” has stopped working is that many people, over a long period of time, tried very hard to break it. This is not just the fault of the Bush Administration. It is a problem nearly 30 years in the making. As a result, once the current crop of bozos in the White House are gone, it still will not go away anytime soon.

That was WAAAY too much heavy thought for one o’clock in the morning.

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