'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bush's Leadership 

When I first read about the Walter Reed scandal the thought that ran through my mind was "Hurricane Katrina".

My second thought was, how long until Democratic politicians start issuing press releases about the incompetence of the Bush administration? Not very long ... the synonym for incompetence this time around is "failure of leadership". But what happened at Walter Reed was not a failure of leadership -- any more than what happened in the CPA's Green Zone or in the aftermath of Katrina. A letter written to Josh Marshall gets it about right:

Incompetence, the lack of capacity or skill, is ultimately an exculpating trope. It insinuates that the plan, or effort, was sound and could have succeeded had it been competently carried out. Moreover, the incompetent are in way less liable: their lack of ability lets them off the hook. Thus, "incompetence" insulates the actors from accountability and leaves the policy itself unscathed.

As the letter I quoted above anticipated, the problems at Walter Reed turn out to be primarily due to the effects of privatization -- according to mainstream accounts, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is seeking a memorandum which "describes how the Army’s decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of 'highly skilled and experienced personnel'".

Similarly, the Bush administration's plans for post-Hussein Iraq were to privatize everything and set up a sort of libertartian utopia -- the libertarian utopia, of course, never got much closer to reality than Ahmed Chalabi's coronation ceremony as sovereign king of the Republic of Israel-friendly Arabia but the fact remains BushCo's reconstruction effort was indeed a massive experiment in privatization; think of the KBR contracts, the mercenaries, the outsourcing of interrogation, for godsake.

The Bush administration's response to Katrina was basically to give billions of dollars to a group of private corporations for whom Hurricane Katrina was a fantastic gift -- it took care of a huge problem for big contractors and real estate developers, poor people. These corporations were free to pursue gentrification projects that had been previously out of reach. According to the Black Commentator:

Bush's Gulf Opportunity Zone Act provides billions in tax dodges for (big) business, while the threatened permanent depopulation of Black New Orleans would eliminate the possibility of return for the nearly 8,000 (small) Black businesses that served the neighborhoods.

And recall the list of "Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices" drafted by the House Republican Study Committee and unearthed by Naomi Klein.

The Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina simply was not the result of incompetence. The Bush administration demonstrated a steadfast resolve to not resort to a large federal rebuilding effort in New Orleans that conservatives and libertarians should admire. In my opinion, if ever there was a situation in my lifetime that called for a massive and expensive WPA-style federal program, it was the aftermath of Katrina and Bush, true to his conservative credentials, did not initiate such a project despite tremendous public pressure. One might say he demonstrated leadership -- conservatives should applaud Bush's handling of New Orleans. They should applaud the rubble, the wrecked houses, and the gutted neighborhoods that two years later have not been rebuilt by any socialist army of riff-raff and rabble whose paychecks were paid by their Uncle Sam.

Likewise, what happened at Walter Reed was due to the failure of an ideology and of the policies instantiated by those who pursue that ideology. The idea that private sector initiatives rather than public sector initiatives are always more efficient, less prone to corruption, and generally better solutions to all problems is, as I see it, perhaps the central plank of conservatism, and throughout Bush's reign this idea has been proven false time and time again. It has become increasingly in vogue among conservatives to distance oneself from Bush, to argue that Bush is not a real conservative. I am not a conservative and thus don't have strong feelings about this assertion -- but it seems to me that the desire to denounce Bush's conservative bonafides among those who are faithful to the free market gospel has a lot to do with the extent to which Bush has been faithful to that gospel and the extent to which he has demonstrated where such faithfulness leads.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?