Jan 27, 2008

September 12, 2007: The Elephant at the Circus, The Desert Fox and the Tar Baby, Incompetence as its own

There is an old story about a middle aged man who one day took his son to the circus. Nearing the big tent the man and his boy passed by the circus elephants that were roped off to the side awaiting their turn to perform. Walking along the rope line the man suddenly noticed an attendant with his hand inserted up the elephant’s ass, all the way to his arm pits.

“Look daddy, what’s that man doing?” cried the boy.
“Good question what are doing?” asked the man.
“The elephant is constipated”, replied the attendant.
“I think I’d look for another job if I were you”, said the man.
“What! Are you crazy! Leave show business?”

So it is with anyone who makes his living with elephants. Unfortunately for the Democrats the government is lousy with political pachyderms and they are condemned to spend most of their time following behind them with a shovel cleaning up the mess.

“What! Are you crazy! Leave politics?” cry the Democrats.

So it is.

The awful truth is no matter who is elected the next President, be he or she a Republican or Democrat, will have to immediately go about the task of shoveling up the shit by systematically undoing virtually everything this fool has put his hands on. In this sense this “values” President has inadvertently become a veritable criterion of value; for whatever he did was wrong and sound public policy, if not common decency, require that the next administration reverse everything he has done.

Let’s take the case of Iraq. To risk mixing a metaphor, we need to visit good ‘ol Uncle Remus. In the “Song of the South”, he presented us with the enduring tale of “brer Fox, brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The genius of our adversary was not only did he find a low tech response to a high tech challenge by transforming box cutters into guided missiles, but he managed to get the boy blunder to play brer fox to his brer Rabbit.

Chasing Osama ‘brer rabbit’ into the dense thicket of the Middle East ‘Ol Two-Cows’ vowed to bring him back ‘dead or alive’. But Bin Laden knew that George the Cheerleader turned Desert Fox would not for long be able to resist getting his hands on the Tar Baby, in this case the rich oil fields of Iraq. Just throw out a few loose connections, spread some rumors of Iraqi support, just make oneself hard enough to find and Bush—who has always suffered from attention deficit syndrome—would soon enough be fixated by the Tar Baby of Baghdad.

And so it was. Not much more than a year into the conflict and major resources and plans were made for the Iraqi adventure.

“Tell me Saddam, where are your weapons of mass destruction”?
And the Tar Baby says nothin’. He just sits there and stares.
“Tell me Saddam, where are your weapons of mass destruction!” cries the Desert Fox
Once again the Tar Baby, he says nothin’. He jus’ sits there and stares.
Angry, the Desert Fox grabs the Tar Baby by the throat…and screams
“Tell me Saddam…”
But the Tar Baby, he says nothin’

And the Desert Fox he try to pull his hands free but the Tar Baby stick to the fox and would not let go and the more the Desert Fox try to get free of da Tar Baby the more he get all tangled up.

And brer Rabbit, he just laughs and laughs.

Somewhere in the bowls of a neo-con stink tank—say the Heritage Foundation—there is a budding disciple of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove who came to the conclusion that incompetence is its own reward. That if we can make incompetence an ethic, a governing principle, we can destroy public confidence in governance. Destroy public confidence and you destroy the public willingness to finance government. Destroy the public’s perceived need for government and you destroy the need to tax.

They learned from Nixon that incompetence can serve your political agenda. Nixon gave us wage and price controls in the early ‘70s. Regulating retail but not wholesale prices, the Nixon administration failed to control the runaway inflation of the age where in more competent hands such policies were a signal success. Confronted with hyperinflation after the end of the Second World War, when consumers were flush with money made from war production and consumer goods were in short supply, the Truman administration instituted controls. The record of the administration to hold prices in line until consumer production increased enough to ease price pressure served as a touchstone of public policy that succeeding administrations could refer to when confronted with similar economic problems.

Then came Nixon. By totally botching the administration of price controls Nixon failed to bring prices under control. The result was a loss of confidence in governance and at the end of the stagflation era of the ‘70s stood Ronald Reagan. It was a seminal lesson to the young Neo-Cons. Fuck it up and you still win! Bad administration creates a more conservative public. Answer: More fuck ups….

Reagan did his best to run the government bankrupt, and subverted the constitution by trying to create a self-funding stand-alone foreign policy in Nicaragua answerable to no one. But, alas, poor Ronnie was too gentle and far too reasonable to fuck it up too badly. So he raised taxes five times beginning a long series of tax increases to try to right the fiscal ship, ending with Pappy Bush’s unhappy reversal of the “READ MY LIPS” pledge and Bill Clinton’s minor adjustments to the upper tax bracket in the early 90’s. No this couldn’t stand…lurking in the weeds, funding the long assault on Clinton’s financial deals and sexual peccadilloes lay the neo-cons, waiting for their chance to strike.

Lightning struck in 2000 in the form of an inarticulate, diminutive, former coke snorting, pot-smoking alcoholic who had demonstrated his bona fide’s to the idiot Right by making a complete botch of virtually everything he had ever laid his hands on. What better way to achieve the required level of incompetence than put a complete incompetent in charge? Enter Crawford’s very own village idiot.

And so within months of establishing, through mass voter fraud and intimidation, the Bastard Presidency Bush had managed to lay waste our economic prospects by transforming record surplus into record deficits—breaking into the social security lock box a full two months before the terrorist attacks of 911.

He lay waste our energy policy by empowering Enron to perpetrate larceny on a scale never before seen. His justice department and energy department stood transfixed as Enron gamed the energy market of the West coast bilking billions from governments and tax payers, and, incidentally producing a recall of the governor of California (Democratic) and electing a new governor ( Republican).

He laid waste our economy by allowing millions of illegal immigrants into the country to compete for labor intensive jobs that are not easily exportable. Other jobs he allowed to be exported out of the country. He has been the only President since Herbert Hoover to have failed to create a single net job while four years in office. He ran up huge trade deficits which, in effect, meant the export of capital out of the country. America was trading the family cow for a relative handful of beans in the form of cheap Chinese goods destined to entice the American consumer at thousands of dollar stores and Wal-Marts throughout the land. Cheap goods with little use value and short life. Goods that in the main are quickly and readily discarded into landfills where they will be forever interred. That is the real monument to the monumental stupidity that has characterized American economic policy under both Democrats and Republicans for the last thirty years. Our enduring architectural monuments will be not our buildings—which are ugly and will be happily torn down—or our roads. The enduring monuments are our landfills which dwarf in size and longevity anything we produce. Testaments to the consumer society in which a market/price driven economy genuflecting before the ‘free markets’ willing takes a serrated knife and cuts it’s own throat, happily gutting it’s own economy in the name of free trade. Bush is only the latest to have happily sold his country for thirty talents of silver.

He had one single success in his first four years in office: his No Child Left Behind Act. But once passed, he refused to fund the “No Child left Behind” mandates.

Posturing as a friend of the military and smearing his opponents as being against the common soldier, he nonetheless cut funding for the Veteran’s administration whilst committing this country to an open ended military engagement.

His Justice Department took an 8 year nap from any anti-trust actions, dropping several high profile cases, such as Microsoft, and allowing untold mergers in the marketplace further concentrating wealth and power.

In Iraq this President and his henchman refused to heed advice as to what would be needed to stabilize the country. He purposefully began the campaign undermanned and ignored early and growing signs of insurgency, holding to the romanticism of the neo-cons that we would be welcome in Baghdad as heroes and liberators, and would be greeted with roses instead of bombs.

His Defense Department, budget office, intelligence agencies and auditors promoted the “privatization” of the Iraqi economy, created private military forces such as Blackwater to protect Halliburton, Bechtel and other corporate interests in Iraq, introducing a force of mercenaries representing America by shooting up the countryside. Billions disappeared due to graft and corruption along with 170,000 ak-47 rifles that somehow slipped thru the hands of the emerging Iraqi military, probably into the hands of insurgents.

He led an assault on Social Security by producing bogus predictions of impending doom justifying a move toward “privatization” always central to the neo-con’s core sexual fantasy.

Then came Katrina. While this president vacationed at his Crawford Ranch, ‘Ol Two-Cows played the guitar, sang and partied while the city drown.

Let me be very clear about this: Any other president with the possible exception of Pappy Bush would have responded immediately and effectively to the crisis of a category 5 hurricane bearing down on a city situated below sea level. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, would have marshaled the forces of the federal agencies as well as the armed forces, and would have followed the storm into the city with helicopters, pontoon boats, rafts, light water craft, fresh water, food, temporary shelter, medical supplies, and mobile power units. But then none of them chose to put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the hands of a director whose previous management experience was running a horse stable.

In the annals of public administration is a force called “institutional memory”. Institutional memory is the rules, regulations, policies, procedures and previous practices that govern institutional responses to crises. This provides not only continuity and consistency to an institution, but enables it to achieve some stability and longevity as the institution is able to weather a measure of incompetence, stupidity and bad luck. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church could survive several incompetent and more than a few criminal popes. It is for this reason that our republic has been able to survive the elevation of such men as Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

To achieve this level of incompetence requires more than the unhappy elevation of a hapless soul fitted with mediocre talent and cursed with bad luck. This requires a deliberate imposition of ignorance, stupidity, venality and greed. To dismantle and render neutral the power of the federal government requires acts of deliberate mendacity. It requires the chutzpah to put not only Brownie in charge of FEMA but “W” in the White House. We learned from Pappy’s unhappy experience when he screwed up the response to hurricane Andrew, and thereby lost Florida and the election to Clinton, that for incompetence to be its own reward an incompetence of an entirely higher order of magnitude is required. Unfortunately, Pappy had an idiot son.

An’ brer Rabbit, he jus’ laugh and laugh.

No comments: