Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Competence of Conservatism

Two must-read articles were posted on AlterNet this week. Together, they make a convincing argument that while the administration has been woefully incompetent in serving Americans, Bush has been all too effective in implementing his ideology.

The first, by George Lakoff (author of Don't Think of an Elephant) bears a headline that is anathema in progressive circles: "Bush Is Not Incompetent." His analysis is spot-on. On the surface, one can point to all of Bush's "failures" -- war in Iraq, huge national debt, Hurricane Katrina -- and rant about his incompetence. But Lakoff notes that Bush knows exactly what he is doing. He is being true to the core values of the modern conservative movement, and he has been ruthlessly successful. By putting our country into a state of war and cutting taxes, he has made cuts in "non-military, discretionary spending" essential. Conservatives call it "starving the beast," making sure there is no money to fund the social and regulatory programs they want to eliminate.

The pseudo-intellectuals who frequent AlterNet's comments section just can't seem to grasp this concept. They are so convinced that Bush is incompetent that they can't recognize that the damage done by his administration is deliberate, driven by ideology. For example, the federal government's nonresponse to Katrina dovetails with the "ownership society" where citizens cannot expect the government to take care of them. Sure, Bush looked like a buffoon playing guitar while New Orleans was drowning, but those residents on the rooftops got the message loud and clear: your government isn't here to help you.

As Lakoff writes, the distinction between the man and his ideology is critical.
The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush's management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy.
Those of us who don't like Bush's results (remember his 2000 slogan "reformer with results?" ha ha ha) need to make clear that conservatism is to blame, not Bush. Otherwise, we risk leaving the door open in 2008 for someone who shares his devastating ideology.

The other article, "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" by Alan Wolfe (from Washington Monthly, elaborates on this ideology and why it results in poor government. In a nutshell, a government run by people whose philosophy is that government should do as little as possible cannot serve its citizenry.
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.
Wolfe gives a brief history of conservatism in America, noting that the most effective conservatives have always been forced to compromise with liberals, resulting in some sort of balance. This is the first time since 1932, and since the dawn of modern "big" government, that conservatives have run the executive and legislative branches for an entire presidential term.
Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.
And again, the message is that the ideology is flawed and that no one could follow it and be a good leader. Bush's apparent bumbling shouldn't distract us from that. If the next president is a conservative, he will be just as ineffective.

Wolfe goes on to offer some evolutionary alternatives for the conservative movement that could be viable, though he admits that such changes are doubtful. As evidence, look at how some right-wing pundits are jumping on the "Bush is incompetent" bandwagon. Swaying the public to think we just have the wrong person for the job rather than the wrong philosophy is their best chance to get another conservative elected in 2008.

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