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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. Do you remember how, right after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, we heard all the pundits talk about how great it was that we finally had grownups in charge of our government in a time of crisis?
Does anyone still believe that nonsense now? Who would, especially when one considers the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration, as well as the cronyism, the lack of accountability and the total stupidity that has haunted every enterprise from 9/11 to Iraq to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?
There are two dynamics at work in the Bush White House. There's the guiding philosophy that politics are more important than governance. Then there's the carefully constructed myth of the "CEO President" and how the best principles and ideas of the private sector are transforming government.
We have seen the effects of both, and they haven't been good.
The political arm of the Bush White House is disciplined and focused. Everyone stays on message. Everything is done with a eye toward political considerations. Leakers and whistleblowers are rare. But that political discipline inevitably gets in the way of governing.
If everything is weighed for its ability to benefit the president and the Republican majority in Congress, inconvenient information such as the pre-9/11 warnings that terrorists were determined to attack the U.S., or the pre-invasion warnings that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, or the pre-Katrina warnings that the Gulf Coast is inadequately prepared for a massive hurricane tends not to be heeded if it conflicts with the prevailing ideology.
That's the reason why, when it comes to the job the president is supposed to be doing running the country, Bush doesn't seem to know what he's doing. He is sheltered from dissenting opinions. His underlings, selected for their loyalty, know that offering dissenting opinions means a trip to the unemployment line. Everything is viewed through the prism of politics. Reality is whatever they say it is.
That leads to the next myth, the myth of private sector competence. There are more CEOs in the current administration than in any previous one. But the prevailing business thinking in the White House seems to be of the slash, burn and loot philosophy of Enron rather than any sort of responsible stewardship.
Next time you hear someone talk about the competence of the Bush administration, consider these facts. Bush has not vetoed a single spending bill since first taking office. In fact, he hasn't vetoed any bills, the longest streak in presidential history. That's because nothing reaches his desk with being thoroughly vetted by the GOP-controlled Congress. Because of this, combined with massive tax cuts and a 37 percent increase in federal expenditures since taking office, Bush has managed to increase the national debt by 12 percent, to nearly $8 trillion.
The cronyism that stuffed the Federal Emergency Management Agency with clueless political appointees instead of emergency managers was bad enough. Now, we're seeing the disbursement of multi-million dollar, no-bid, cost-plus contracts for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast to the same Bush campaign donors which are profiting handsomely in Iraq Haliburton, Bechtel and Fluor, to name a few.
Haliburton and Bechtel, by the way, are under investigation for overbilling the federal government for the reconstruction work in Iraq.
A well-run organization learns from its mistakes and doesn't repeat them. So why is the Bush administration handing out money to these and other companies that have proven track records of shoddy work and/or corrupt billing practices? Because, in the Bush White House, political loyalty means more than competence, so GOP donors end up at the front of the line.
A well-run organization doesn't farm out its most important tasks to cronies. So why was FEMA turned into a political patronage dumping ground? Because, in the Bush White House, politics are more important than governance.
A well-run organization doesn't look for alibis for its failures. So why does Bush always bring up the war on terrorism whenever anything else goes wrong? Because politically, the war on terrorism is the only card the Republicans have to play.
For the last four years, President Bush has managed to get away with running a nation based upon wishful thinking and political dogma. When things go wrong, he finds something or someone to blame. And that fine line between loyalty and steadfastness, and stubbornness and inflexibility, is routinely crossed.
You can't run a successful business that way. You certainly can't run a successful nation that way, either. If politics trumps responsible management, sound financial principles and overall competency, the result is a federal government that can't govern.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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