I recently provoked a politically-fueled economics debate on another blog that is neither an economic blog nor a political blog. As such I want to move any further discussion here. There were a number of questions floated by other commenters regarding the statements I made, but the one that drew the most criticism specifically, was a statement I made that laid a large portion of the blame for the current recession at the feet of George W. Bush.
I further went on to say that the conservatives in this country have recently splintered into a number of differing groups (social conservatives, free-market, laissez-faire Libertarian conservatives and even big government conservatives like Ron Paul).
I said it has become difficult to quantify conservatives across all classes, but almost all conservatives who reach a level of power in the federal government become free-market Libertarians who pray at the altar of Big Business. Dubya and the rest of the Bushies are the archetypes of this conservative Libertarian movement.
The Bushies have had such a collective admiration for business that, once in power, they did everything they could to systematically destroy the government and privatize everything. This isn't Sprizouse's personal conspiracy theory, but rather current 'ruling' conservative dogma. The bulk of this movement began in the 1980s with Reagan who realized that by wrecking the government, he could turn around, point at it and say, "Look the government doesn't work, we should privatize everything."
Let me borrow from Thomas Frank to best illustrate:
Misgovernment by the conservatives in power is the result of a philosophy of government that considers the free market the ideal of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction. The movement believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics, and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, what follows from that: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.The correct diagnosis is the "bad apple" thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the past few years. Hang around with grassroots conservative voters in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people.But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the "values" that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we discern an entirely different set of priorities—priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is a conservatism institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.Conservative leaders in Washington laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service and declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.
Frank's doomsaying is a bit further forward than mine. I don't believe the government is beyond saving, and two terms of a progressive agenda enacted by Obama and a liberal Congress should help. But I'm not going to try to predict the future, I'm just trying to point out how well Dubya followed the groundwork laid by Reagan. Bush consistently appointed incompetent people at the top of every agency in Washington, just like Reagan before him (remember James Watt of the EPA?).
Dubya put coal industry lobbyists in charge of the Department of the Interior, BigPharma guys in charge of the FDA and grossly incompetent men in charge of FEMA which helped the conservatives in Washington "outsource" the rebuilding of New Orleans to profiteering private companies (the ninth ward is almost completely rebuilt after only four years...ummm, maybe not).
Again, lest you think this is conspiracy theory, examine just a small collection of the Dubya appointments and judge for yourself.
Alberto Gonzales – Attorney General
Gonzales disgraced the Department of Justice as Attorney General by putting loyalty to the President above duty to the country.
Hank Paulson – Treasury Secretary
Bush put Paulson, a man so incompetent he doesn't understand the basics of balance sheets, in charge of the Treasury. This is the man in charge of the Treasury? A man who asked the American taxpayer to give him $700 million, no questions asked, no oversight?
Paulson is also the man who lobbied to have looser ibanking regulations (lowering of the net capital rule) and the right to leverage through the roof, all of which led to the financial crisis (as well as a large portion of the sub-prime mess created by aggressive investment bank lending).
Joe Allbaugh / Michael Brown – FEMA
Bush first appointed his campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to the head of FEMA despite the fact that Allbaugh had no appropriate emergency or management experience. Then Bush put Michael Brown in his place, a man who had never in his life managed more than two people, and whose career pinnacle to that point was investigating misconduct at horse shows.
J. Steven Griles – Secretary of the Interior
The Department of the Interior is set up to conserve and protect federally owned land. Griles, a former coal industry lobbyist lobbied for MORE strip mining during his lobbying career.
Scott Gottlieb – FDA
The FDA is set up to protect consumers from harmful drugs and food not properly examined for pesticides. Gottlieb was a former BigPharma guy who had previously been critical of the FDA. Gottlieb pressured scientists at the FDA to fast track drug approvals without rigorous research, and once halted a study on a multiple sclerosis drug after three patients lost blood and one died. Gottlieb halted the study saying it was "an overreaction" because the disease, not the drug was probably to blame.
Kenneth Tomlinson – Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Tomlinson was forced to resign after investigations found he was trying to push PBS news content in a more conservative direction.
Stephen L. Johnson – Administrator of the EPA
The EPA is supposed to be a watchdog on the health of the environment but under Johnson’s leadership the EPA has closed the EPA’s network of technical libraries without awaiting Congressional approval. The agency has also abandoned proposed rules protecting children and workers from lead paint and violated the Endangered Species Act in failing to consider the harmful effects of pesticides on salmon… the common thread in all these actions is service to corporate polluters above public health. But perhaps Johnson's greatest feat is his attempt to block 17 states from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel economy… HE’S THE DIRECTOR OF THE EPA PEOPLE!!!
I could go on and on but I'm not sure it's necessary; I think the evidence is there for anyone to see. This isn't, as I've said misgovernment done accidentally, but misgovernment done on purpose, to create cynics of the public.
When we see these governmental disasters, the natural question we ask is, "Did these disasters happen because government doesn't work?"
But the question should be, "Did these disasters happen because THIS government and THIS governments fundamental philosophy doesn't work?"
As the '08 election (I think) indicated, Americans are starting to believe that it's Dubya's philosophy of government that doesn't work. The public's conclusion during the Reagan years, as well as the first four Dubya years, was that the government was patently incapable of functioning. But government obviously does work in certain circumstances, not to mention how well it works in plenty of other countries.
It's natural to blow off government failure with cynicism and lest you think I believe Democrats are immune from failure, scandal or graft when in power, believe me I'm not. I'm not excusing Democratic scandals nor excusing any future Democratic failures, but what the public should understand is that the ideals of the Democratic party revolve around a properly functioning government, while the ruling ideals of Republicans has been to govern in such a way as to increase the public's cynicism by wrecking the government.
This systematic destruction almost always gives ruling conservatives a new lease on life. More than a few others are starting to take notice as well: (below is a nice 6:00 minute video from Rachel Maddow's interview on the Colbert Report where she says letting the Bush administration govern is like hiring a vegan to be your butcher).
As a final thought, I'll leave you with a tidbit from an interview with Thomas Frank:
Conservatives have had a beef with the civil service for a really long time. This is part of their identity. I was able to find an article published in 1928, and it was written by—or maybe it was an interview with the president of the US Chamber of Commerce. A man who was a big player in the 1928 Coolidge administration (a big conservative powerhouse). The title of the article was— "The best public servant is the worst one."What he meant by that was that you don't want good people in government. You don't want talented folks in government, because then government will work, it will be effective. And if government is effective, then people will start to expect it to solve their problems and who knows what comes after that. It’s all downhill from there, from his perspective. And the funny thing was—then you start researching the history of conservatism and conservative’s in power say things like this all the time; that we don’t want the best and the brightest in government.