Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Simple Competency

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post:

Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president’s defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things — particularly when most of them were the president’s own initiatives.


How could a president get these things so wrong? Incompetence may describe this presidency, but it doesn’t explain it. For that, historians may need to turn to the seven deadly sins: to greed, in understanding why Bush entrusted his new drug entitlement to a financial mainstay of modern Republicanism. To sloth, in understanding why Incurious George has repeatedly ignored the work of experts whose advice runs counter to his desires.

More and more, the key question for this administration is that of the great American sage, Casey Stengel: Can’t anybody here play this game?

We all deal with incompetency in our everyday lives, and no one is completely immune to it themselves; I deal with it — as well as spells of it on my own behalf — every day. The maddening thing about it is that no one really sets out to be incompetent — it’s not something people aspire to — and the worst offenders are usually people who are sure that they are doing their best. It’s not like they’re trying to screw up; they just don’t get whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing and they seem incapable of grasping it. It’s like trying to discuss quantum physics with your cat; at some point you just have to give up.

It may be a minor annoyance when the guy at the tire store can’t figure out which is the right rear tire (Hey, it’s the one that’s flat; does that help?) but when it is the leader of the free world — someone who literally does have the power of life and death over others — that you begin to get worried.

One thing that is most troublesome is that Mr. Bush is surrounded by a chorus of enablers who loudly and defensively proclaim that this president is the greatest man to walk the earth since Christ wore knickers. That does nothing for repairing the damage that has been wrought and it shows that these sycophants have an extremely low bar of tolerance for incompetency; it really makes you wonder what their standards for competency are. How badly does Bush have to fuck something up before they’ll concede it? Please don’t tell me that they really think everything is just hunky-dory in Iraq, that our response to Hurricane Katrina was the best he could do under the circumstances (given that we now know the White House had plenty of warning), and that the Medicare Part D prescription plan is the perfect marriage between universal government-supported health care and private industry. It makes them all sound like Vladimir Posner at the height of the Brehznev regime in the Soviet Union.

I don’t hate the president. Since I don’t know him personally, I can’t feel any kind of personal animus for him, and you can’t hate someone for being incompetent. It’s not like he’s trying to screw up; for what it’s worth, he’s probably trying to do his best. No, I’m more disappointed in ourselves for allowing this administration to blunder along without any coherent plan and for most of the electorate to be bamboozled into thinking that this really is the best we can do. Some people excuse it by saying, “Well, he means well,” as if sincerity and purity of motivation was a mitigating factor. That’s the problem; if he didn’t mean well — if he truly sought the dictatorial powers ascribed to him by some of my more passionate brethren of the left — then he wouldn’t be doing it in such a ham-handed way. No, I think Mr. Meyerson gets it right; incompetency is a description but not an explanation, and it is only compounded when people who should know better excuse it for partisan gain.