Monday, November 20, 2006

Of Foxes and Henhouses

To characterize Bush's tendency to appoint extremists to oversee agencies that those extremists hate as "alarming," would be putting things mildly. The fact that he continues to do so directly after the Democratic victory in both houses of Congress is nothing less than a warning shot across their bow that, for all his talk of being "above the fray," Bush intends to continue to politicize every aspect of American life at all levels. As if that point weren't made quite clearly by the very fact that Bush's campaign manager continues to oversee policy in any official capacity, Bush now enters his lame duck phase continuing to overstock the bureaucracy with partisan hacks. Although this most recent appointment does not require Senate confirmation, Bush presents the heretofore unconsidered counterexample as to why it should.

Ahem: Eric Keroack has been appointed to head the family planning services for the Department of Health and Human Services. As such, he will be responsible for any federal programs regarding the promotion and distribution of birth control. And what experience qualifies this worthy for such a position? Simply that he was previously director of "A Women's Concern," a group which opposes the promotion and distribution of birth control.

Setting aside for the moment all of the obvious arguments regarding the relationship between restricting birth control and the occurrence of abortion, it would seem shocking that a sitting president should appoint someone to oversee an agency who would obviously like to see that agency razed to the ground... if this weren't merely another instance in a long line of exactly that behavior. Bush has a tendency to put foxes in charge of henhouses, apparently for no other reason than that he is not fond of hens. It's like putting the enemy's generals in charge of your own army because you want to lose - but Iraq is another story.

The first thing that comes to mind is, what if the shoe were on the other foot? What if a Democrat in office put Tre Arrow in charge of the Department of the Interior? Ann Berlin in charge of Agriculture? How about Ralph Nader in charge of Commerce? Obviously the right-wingers would rightly scream that such a President had gone mad, and was instituting a dangerous policy that would lead directly to the destruction of the American economy. But there would be essentially no difference between that and the current administration's appointments, in that putting single-issue radicals in charge of their governmental nemeses is, to put it gently, an irresponsible pattern of behavior. Adjusting the mandate of governmental agencies is a job which should only appropriately be done via the legislature, as it should involve debate and public consideration. But to do so merely by executive appointment is nothing more or less than dereliction of duty, committed by both the appointee and the President himself.

However, this raises a larger and more difficult issue: what can be the proper political response to those who run for office with the intent of destroying government from within? It's not like we didn't have warning. The Rand/Goldwater/Reagan/Bush philosophy has been presented clearly and thoroughly enough before now, even as it has become increasingly strident and extremist over the past 50 years. These Republicans have stated loudly and at every possible moment that they would prefer to see all government agencies ground to a complete halt, and will work to do so whenever they can get away with it. The complete destruction of government itself (except for the military) has been explicitly and openly stated in platforms and campaign promises. And now, with this appointment and others, with every incompetent misstep and failure to act, we see those promises fulfilled. We can hardly say that we shouldn't have been expected to see it coming. Inept, unworkable government is both the premise and agenda of neoconservatism, after all. The apparent ineptitude of the Bush administration is therefore a matter of intentional philosophy, not of accident. They mean to screw everything up, and are doing so on purpose.

It isn't really possible to scold someone for destroying (or "reforming," to use the Gingrichese) that which they believe it is their moral duty to destroy. One can't shame these people into feeling bad for razing necessary governmental programs which they strongly believe are not only unnecessary, but actively harmful as well. To a lesser extent, they believe the same of all government (except for the military). Bush and his ilk are simply not cognizant of concepts such as the responsibility and duty of governmental bodies to perform their office faithfully. To the neocon right wing, all of government is nothing more than a pit into which their heroes are willing to descend in order to slay its monsters. It is not going out on a limb to state that such persons are well out of contact with reality, and should be kept as far as possible from holding offices in the government that they purport to hate so fervently. Unfortunately, the rest of us still have to deal with them, at least for the time being. The question is, how? After all, it's not like Congress can use the "power of the purse" against agencies that this administration is trying to throttle to death anyway.

First of all, these "bomb-thrower" appointees must be literally called to task. They may cackle with glee now that they hold the reins of their most hated enemies, but the oversight capacity of Congress must now hold them to executing the duties of their new offices faithfully, completely, and accurately. As such, they must be forced to actually perform their hated jobs correctly, or face indictment for abandoning their job responsibilities. For in order to act on their obvious intent they would have to break actual laws, either by neglecting their specified duties or by hiding or falsifying information gathered by their agency. As such, the forthcoming congressional hearings into wiretapping and manipulated intelligence will prove to be only the tip of a vast bureaucratic iceberg of malfeasance within nearly every government agency. I find it difficult to believe that such persons have been doing their jobs properly, given that they loathe those jobs as a matter of philosophical and/or religious dogma.

Now that we have a Congress prepared to actually exercize the oversight responsibility delegated to it by the Constitution, two years saturated with scandals as yet unknown are simply inevitable. Don't say you weren't warned. The only way we've avoided hearing about what's been crawling around under these rocks so far has been to avoid looking under rocks. But hopefully with enough such hearings, those who campaign against government agencies will become considerably more hesitant in the future to apply for or to accept positions running those agencies. If forced to actually do their jobs, they would either have to become what they purport to hate or reverse their stated convictions entirely.

In the long run, it is high time that those of us to the left of the new center took the time to make the case for government. If these Ayn Rand conservatives would characterize us as Socialists (or even Communists) merely for suggesting that certain functions of government are useful and necessary in order to define the limits and bounds within which individual enterprise may best flourish, then it is far more powerful to make the argument that their extremist call for no government (except for the military) leads ultimately to pure economic anarchy under the rule of a fascist junta. Just look at any third-world banana republic for the inevitable end result of their philosophy: the military is 90% of government, a handful of people have all the wealth, all infrastructure is privatized (that is, nonexistent) and the middle class has been completely eroded, leaving behind nothing but a vast - er, "affordable labor market" to be either exploited or discarded by the aforementioned wealthy. There are many examples of such economic wastelands available for comparison today. Each constitutes the antithesis of everything that America stands for.

And don't let the neocons try to tell you that this is not truly their aim. The fact that they haven't thought out the end result of their political dogma does not mean that they can disavow it so easily. Everything may be mere fun and games when it's all just rhetoric, but now that they have been stupid and insane enough to turn it all into policy, the real results of this creed are becoming clear to the electorate. If we could have a proper discussion of which functions of government should be exercized to what degree, then that would be sane. But to always call for "smaller government" regardless of the current actual size of the government, and regardless of its current activities or our current needs, constitutes merely a thinly veiled call for precisely such a form of pure economic anarchy. And even that thin veil is rapidly dropping.

But let's allow the fascists and the communists to fight out their extremist philosophies in other countries than ours. Among other things, America was supposed to be the land of the sane. Anybody who tries to tell you that we should be completely to either side of any philosophical scale merely in order to fulfill the purity of their vision is a raving lunatic and needs to be called so immediately whenever they dare open their bleating yap. It's time that we brought a new sense of shame to those who would dare to make a virtue out of dereliction of duty. That is not the American way, and these madmen are no patriots.

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