Bush's cronies screw up everything, Episode #144
There is nothing--absolutely nothing--George W. Bush can do properly, but I was told that wasn't going to be a problem. I remember before the 2000 election when I was ranting about the man's apparent cluelessness to everyone I knew, my Republican friends would say, "Sure, he's not the brightest guy, but he surrounds himself with geniuses." This was, you'll remember a talking point of the Bush apologists and a trap into which even America's best and brightest pundits sometimes slipped. Bush's vast supply of stupid couldn't hurt us, I was told, because someone would always be there to hold his sweaty little hand.
I was also told that Bush was going to bring a business mindset to governance. I used to point out that his own experiences in business didn't make me feel any better about that statement. With all the money he could ask for to toss into his ventures, Bush couldn't get a business into the black. I, like many others, was concerned.
And I was right to be. From Iraq to Katrina, the Plame Scandal to the recent political manipulation of America's legal system, Bush has shown that he's a terrible, embarrassingly awful leader--just as his résumé suggested he would be--and, more importantly, he's shown that those who predicted America would be protected from his intellectual failings by a buffer zone of genius were not only wrong, but believed exactly the opposite of the truth. Yes, Bush has failed again and again, but in every single failure you can dig down and find, at its core, a terrible human resources decision: Bremer, Brownie, Miers, Tomlinson, Gonzales, Small.
Who's Small, you ask?
Lawrence M. Small, if you haven't been paying attention, was
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, the banker who took over the world's largest museum complex seven years ago, has resigned under pressure following revelations regarding his housing allowance and office and travel expenditures...How could this have happened? Surely all Americans would want the best leadership for the Smithsonian, right? It is, after all, one of America's historical crown jewels and even the corrupt incompetents leading the Republican party and manning the ramparts of Leibercrattia wouldn't want it to fall into disrepair.
In recent weeks questions about Small's leadership and his personal expenditures had created a crisis at the Smithsonian. Small, 65, had been sharply criticized by members of Congress and his pay and expense accounts have been subjected to scrutiny by the Smithsonian inspector general. Last week, two separate committees were appointed by the regents to look into management operations at the Smithsonian, which includes 18 museums and research facilities as well as the National Zoo.
I'm sure they don't. But, in the past 20 years, Republicans--and some DLC Democrats--have come to believe in Corporate Pixie Dust. They believe, without any evidence to demonstrate the validity of their belief, that corporations are magical entities which always run smoothly and are led by the smartest goshdarned people in the whole wide world. Lawrence Small is just another example of the failure of that belief. A business-type in a job held throughout history by academics, Small promised--just like his benefactors--promised to bring to his public position the mindset of businessman. As WaPo puts it:
Small, the first Smithsonian secretary who was not a scientist or an academic, brought a corporate mentality to an institution that long resembled a university campus. The result was a culture clash, with Small pushing to rename facilities after wealthy donors, for example. That offended longtime Smithsonian researchers who thought he was compromising the institution's values.The problem is this: Tattooed around the heart of every true Republican moneyman are the words of Adam Smith, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." And, for many of those on the right, those words are sacrosanct. They believe that nothing should get in the way of one's self-interest: Neither laws nor the well-being of one's fellow man. This kind of mindset, oddly enough, seems incompatible with an organization like, say, the entire United States government, which is dedicated not to self-interest, but to the desire to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..." While there are plenty of "I"s in those phrases, they basically amount to the creation of the American "team" and we've all been told a million times how many "I"s that word has.
Not only is the business degree fetishism of pro-corporate Republicans (and Dems) antithetical to the very idea of government, it's just simply bad management. The stories soldiers tell about the incompetence of contractors (many of whom admit being hired a couple of days after faxing their résumés to KBR or other companies) would be hilarious if you didn't think about the fact the average American's taxes only cover a small portion of a single, unqualified employee's six-figure income. Or that they don't pay taxes on the first $80K. And corporate lobbyists have gotten Congress to blow massive amounts of government money every year on studies which try to compare the efficiency of government employees against the efficiency of what corporations say they can do. Of course, when the company comes back and demands more money, it usually gets it and, in some cases, contracted companies who've created specific products for government can simply refuse to renew the contract, take the (for example) software they created on government time public and deny the government use of the software or database upon which it operates because the contract's dead, creating massive headaches for the government employees left behind to create entirely new ways of doing business from scratch.
There is a lot of talk about how Bush's reign has damaged the long-term political viability of the Republican party. I can't say whether or not that's true. I will say this, though: Americans who are truly interested in the long-term viability of our republic should make it clear to their friends and neighbors that the Bush administration has fully tested whether contractors and corporate lackeys can run government better than the mythically cold, unfeeling government bureaucrat. What we got were hundreds of small-scale government versions of Enron, Tyco and Worldcom; self-interest running rampant with no oversight from the former Republican-led Congress.
So, while it's good to see Congress finally chipping away at the crust surrounding the Bushies warm, gooey center of corruption, it's important to make clear that this isn't simply a rogue, incompetent administration. This is a rogue, incompetent administration which is, nevertheless, following the exact recipes Republicans have written over the last thirty years. Americans need to understand that, in one sense, Bush hasn't failed. He implemented core Republican principles and they failed. And they always will.
I've always thought that this was an important distinction to make, but, with the Lawrence M. Small mini-scandal unfolding, it makes it even more necessary to pull America away from these dangerous ideas. I'd been worrying, you see, about the effects of Republican policies on the future of our country, but now I see that they might even be able to fuck up our past.
Update: Kos makes a similar point.
Update: Regarding the correction below, Cernig says Small is still a Republican problem.
Small is a staunch Republican. He owes his appointment to Chief Justice William Renquist, who as chair of the Board of regents at the Smithsonian appointed him as secretary even though he had no obvious qualifications for the job. Over the years he has donated to George Bush, Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Rick Santorum and Americans for a Republican Majority, among others. None are exactly strong supporters of evolutionary theory, preferring the pseudo-science of "Intelligent Design". So it isn't surprising that Small presided over the decision to show the ID propoganda movie "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe" at America's premier scientific museum.
* In the initial post, I had erred in writing that Small was appointed by Bush because I read a date wrong. Far from proving my argument wrong, this shows, in fact, how ingrained the Corporate Pixie Dust belief has become in our society. It remains a major part of the problem with, as I mentioned, the DLC Democrats. In fact, the law which requires that portions of government agencies' jobs be put up for bid and scanned for efficiency every few years was signed by Bill Clinton in 1997. Again, I apologize for the error, but this only reinforces my point about the need to show that it's not just the current Republicans which are flawed, but the ideology which says government can do no right and corporations can do no wrong. Much thanks to doginfollow who helped point out my error in the comments.