Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Illogical and Inane at "The Nation"

This week The Nation has a particularly inane article (behind its firewall) that simultaneously channels Joe Klein and the DLC. In "Help Wanted: GOP Managers (With Pay Scales Soaring, Only Bumblers Are Willing to Work for the Government," Thomas Geoghegan succeeds at what so many Washington pundits are good at: speaking from a purportedly Democratic point of view while consistently undermining Democratic and democratic ideals. To say that Geoghegan's article is silly is to give it too much credit. Moreover that implies that the progressive left should laugh it off. We shouldn't, and here's why.

The article starts off by making a few correct points:
It seems that the Republican Party, the business party, the party of management, has a lot of difficulty managing. Our government cannot execute the basic plays. Let's look past Katrina, and FEMA, and Michael Brown. Let's look past the mismanagement of the oil and gas leases out West, the FDA's bungling over Guidant and its appointment (subsequently retracted) of a veterinarian to head the Office of Women's Health. Let's just consider the new Medicare drug program. The Bush Administration can't even perform a simple thing like getting people off the state Medicaid computer list and onto the Medicare computer list. In 2004 there was a serious shortage of flu vaccine. John Kerry failed to make an issue of it, but the voters should have been alarmed. It was an omen of the bungling to come in New Orleans. This is a government that cannot do even simple things.
Ok. Clear enough. But, starting with his second paragraph, Geoghegan goes seriously astray: "It appears that the Republicans when in power have no good managers. In an economy of superstars who make millions, the GOP can't afford to hire them, especially the ones who are indifferent to public service and gravitate to the Republicans in the first place--or to no party at all." [Emphasis mine]

Let's put aside for a moment some of Geoghegan's assumptions that business superstars are necessarily better managers than promotions from the ranks; that anyone making less than a "superstar" salary must be less competent; that someone who is indifferent to public service is going to enter government (at any salary) and act in its (and the people's) best interest.

Geoghegan goes on to write:

What may be more crippling to Bush's efforts to recruit people is not the CEO pay but the pay of the vice presidents just below them. That's where the government might look for talent to manage at the assistant secretary level. But it is questionable how many of these managers can afford public service--for a year perhaps, but not for three or four, much less two presidential terms. A friend of mine in a top-rank job at a huge global firm told me of a colleague of his in a rising American company. The colleague was now head of personnel, or human relations. "And do you know what his salary is?" my friend told me. "It's $5 million a year." Five million dollars a year--for a personnel director. It is unlikely this man is going to go home and tell his wife, "I'm ready to work for $120,000 a year because I want to help George Bush reogranize the Census Bureau."


Now what's most distinctive about Bush is that he's floundering to find managers.


There should be some sympathy for George Bush's attempts to persuade a talented human relations manager to give up $5 million a year to take a job writing regulations for the Federal Register. It seems unfair to question the patriotism of such people...It's hard to take in the scale of sacrifice.

You know, I do question the patriotism of anyone who puts money above public service. Sacrifice? How is that people who preach all day about the sacrifices of soldiers can't subsist on over 100K per year? But let's assume government jobs are too big of a "sacrifice" for people on Wall Street and K street. Are there any real Americans left to do the job?

Well, millions of firefighters, school teachers, soldiers and others live happy lives in this country without being solely motivated by money. Perhaps they couldn't manage FEMA, you say. Fine. Yet there are governors and state-level managers around the country who have spent their lives in dedicated public service who could easily manage FEMA, Census or any other government branch. Even George Bush hired a competent, rich Secretary of Treasury, Paul O'Neill. O'Neill did a good job, he was honest, reliable, concerned--and therefore he was forced to retire. And therein lies the problem with Geoghegan's assumptions about our president. Is it not possible that what normal citizens see as mismanagement (by Brown, by Chertoff, by Rumsfeld) is actually precisely the result that George Bush and corrupt Republicans want? Is is not possible that many right-wing people want to manage government towards implosion and failure because their goal is to eliminate or severely reduce public programs like Social Security, Medicare, FEMA, HUD, or HHS? I would argue that Republican rhetoric of the last twenty years has embraced the anti-democratic and oftentimes racist values of those who opposed FDR and of the John Birsh Society. I would argue that structural failure at, say, FEMA, is actually considered a sucess by some people like Grover Norquist, who wish strangle government until it dies. I would argue that George Bush agrees with Grover Norquist, as his tax program proves, and that George Bush is doing his part to hasten the collapse of the Great Society and the New Deal. Given this, no one should have sympathy for George Bush.

We should fear our president for his ability to do harm, and we should fear his pseudo-critics (who are actually apologists) like Geoghegan, who fail to understand the connections between our government's failures and the underlying "conservative" philosophy that seeks their doom.

Furthermore, pointing out the exorbitant salaries of corporate America does little to convince me that paying government managers more is necessary, nor does it convince me that "only bumblers" are willing to work for government. Perhaps I am one of those "Liberals [who] tend to sneer about the revolving door and how so many in the GOP cash in on public service via lobbying on K street." Well, since all that GOP cashing in is proving to be highly felonious, well, allow me a sneer or two. Also allow me to believe that K street is not good for America regardless of its reality.

Geoghegan doesn't convince me either that our government is naturally full of "bumblers" and that we need corporate assistance. Is Geohegan saying that Richard Clarke is a bumbler? Are all of our generals? The FAA? The National Park Service? These agencies have, without a doubt, numerous mid- to upper-level managers more than capable and more than willing to the job. Likewise, there is more than ample evidence that Bush and the Repbulicans want to gut government programs. In other words, Bush did not promote internally because, as I said, he has neither the American people's nor its government's interest in mind.

Bush does not deserve our sympathy, he deserves our scorn--as do Geoghegan and the Nation's editors for publishing this article that sounds like it emanated from the fingers of Joe Klein. Really. There are more problems with Geoghegan's argument that I won't go into, and this article should have been sent back as a first draft with the words "Rewrite after checking with reality and an exorcist specializing in DLC possessions" written on the first page. With so many good journalists like Jeremy Scahill and Naomi Klein to call, The Nation could have filled these pages with an opionion worthy of its reader's time. They didn't and in so doing they hurt the Democratic and democratic causes they normally serve.