Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Looking over yesterday's very interesting comments, I'm wondering if the whole "creeping fascism" thing isn't, well,... just so 2003.

The bumpersticker version of Mussolini's rise to power was that he was able to get the people to happily hand over their rights because he made the trains run on time. Anyone ridden on Amtrak lately?

Richard Clarke, on Bill Maher's show last week, argues that one fatal flaw in almost every single conspiracy theory is the presumption of governmental competence. Not only do you have to assume that they can keep a secret, but you have to assume that they are good enough to pull off the grand scheme outlined in the conspiracy story. The folks who nominated Harriet Meirs to the Supreme Court, the ones who put ol' heckuvajob Brownie in a position to oversee life or death decisions, the people who allowed George Deutsch, a guy who couldn't finish college, to determine what Ph.D. holding astronomers could say about astronomy...These are the people who are supposed to be competent enough to rework the wiring of our democracy.

Now, I have no doubt that these spawn of Nixon clearly have designs on re-establishing a centralized structure in which maintenance of their power and corporate interest are substituted entirely for the good of the nation at large -- I now write my long-distance phone bill out directly to the NSA in order to eliminate the middle man. But just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the tracks for the mag-lev bullet train to hell is built from these.

My guess is that historians in a couple of generations will look back at this period and see that we came to the edge, but were spared because the powers that wannabe just weren't sharp enough to pull it off. The Mayberry Machiavellis had the braun, they just didn't have the brains.

There is no doubt that they made it to second base. The foundation had been laid. The media was told, "sit, stay, good boy." The opposing party (you just have to chuckle even typing that phrase) was cowed into submission. But watching the Oval Office address last night and looking at those who hope to fill the spot, like George Allen, for example, you realize that these are nothing but schoolyard bullies who just don't pack the necessary intellectual firepower to close the deal. When you have a President who isn't well-informed, well-spoken, or well-mannered enough to hold an unscripted press conference, you are not going to be able to wag the dog into complete power. You not only need the intention, you need the goods. And if they had it, we'd be in a world of trouble right now. It may yet turn out that incompetence was the GOP's greatest virtue.

And it is one that has actively been cultivated. Government, by conservative presupposition, is inefficient and incompetent. Anything administered by the feds is by definition mismanaged. The argument begins with greed -- I don't want to pay taxes. The second step is that taxes go to fund governmental functions. If these made the country or the world a better place, then it would be money well-spent and irrational and immoral to want to eliminate it. Hence, we must assert by fiat that all government work is wasteful and ineffective.

But since it is a first principle that the government is broken, it really makes no difference who you put in charge of it. Are you a bad movie actor? We'll make you Governor of California and maybe President of the whole nation. Having conservatives in charge who aren't Rhodes scholars is fine. The whole point is to undermine the power of the government. If they let corporate lobbyists write legislation and simultaneously erode the public's confidence in the government's ability to do anything right -- double bonus! If they are effective in putting in place conservative policies that work, great; if they are massive failures, that is fine too -- it only shows how bankrupt government solutions to any problem are. Win or lose, they win. Completely unfalsifiable. Brilliant.

But from the "irony can be so ironic" file, all of the work they've done to weaken the government is exactly what has hindered their ability to strengthen the government. My guess is that looking back, we'll end up sounding like Yogi Berra when we say, "If he weren't so bad, he would have been worse."