Thursday, June 15, 2006

Conservative ideology and governance don’t mix

What do the FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina and the Department of Defense’s response to the war in Iraq have in common? Both are examples of governance by conservative ideologues – under-funded, overdependence on privatization, poor or no planning to accomplish the stated goals, and, most importantly, a lack of respect and faith in the one institution that is capable of making a difference in the lives of people affected – the federal government.

For the first time since 1932 conservatives have control of the White House, both houses of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. However, they have little or nothing to show for their turn at power. Conservatives are now turning on the Bush administration accusing the President of not being conservative enough.

Alan Wolfe, in the cover story of this month’s Washington Monthly, argues that the problems with the Bush administration is not just incompetence (although that is a big factor) but ideology – specifically, conservatism. He writes:
Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of
persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these
dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding
high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of
Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China
and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If
leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political
ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and
start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to
Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond
belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual
curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws
are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest
dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as
impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress
imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the
size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an
ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world
problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for
entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather,
from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the
money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to
the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his
Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes
must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the
rich--the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find
themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to
improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing
government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe
to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable
to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split
the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that
validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result
is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Read the entire article here.

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