First, off the top, will someone please crack open a look inside Newt Gingrich’s soul, for me?
I once nursed some hope that sci fi fan Gingrich might prove to be a brave and adaptable person. That he might rise up and become some kind of “reality-based” conservative, like his purported hero, Barry Goldwater. One with sufficient guts -- as well as loyalty to our Great Experiment -- to stand up like a man and acknowledge (as Goldwater did, in the final year of his life) that “this time it’s the extreme elements of my own side who have gone horrifically mad.”
In much the same way that moderate Democrats did exactly that thing, when they parted sharply with all their old communist friends, in the “Miracle of 1947” Only this time (in my fantasy) it would be smart guys like Gingrich who would openly admit the corrupt and heinous monstrosity that the neoconservative right has become. And the travesty that became of his well intended”Contract With America.”
Gingrich might even (I fantasized) issue a call to that one-third of today’s Republicans who can still be called “decent and sane conservatives,” beckoning them to rise out of their state of ostrichlike denial, leading them back toward re-commitment with the Enlightenment ...
...and thus saving something that can be rebuilt into some kind of a restored conservatism. Something decent and honest enough to be worthy of participating in the grand American process of negotiated pragmatic progress.
Alas, in the last few years, it has grown clear that Gingrich the political animal is just another rationalizer -- a shill for the neo-feudalists -- and one of the chief reasons that Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave. (See an example, later in this essay.)
Only, now, Newt’s latest sudden veer has thrown that caricature into confusion. Be sure to read about it in Salon’s “The War Room.” (Thanks Stefan.) Oh, this one event is not enough to restore my fantasy, let alone make me trust this fellow. Still, his spectacular shifts and veers and leaps make for entertaining diversion. He does keep me watching.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/02/AR2007080201752_pf.html John McQuaid wrote, in the Washington Post, a national commentary that was inspired by the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota, extrapolating that this one event reflects a general decline in American competence and general can-do confidence.
Of course, at one level this is absurd. In a complex civilization that is filled with elderly infrastructure, “stuff happens.” It would, even if we were well-led.
Nevertheless, at another level, you know that I do not disagree with the author’s core point. Indeed, he reflects an issue that I first raised many years ago -- the apparent decline in modernist, can-do spirit, especially in the United States of America.
See my extended essay about this topic.
As for John McQuaid’s argument, take this snippet:
Even Americans' usually boundless self-confidence has taken a hit. In 2002, a Pew poll showed that 74 percent of respondents agreed with this statement: "As Americans, we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want." Five years later, the number has fallen 16 percentage points, to 58 percent. Annual polls taken by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion have found public confidence in the government's ability to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and health crises such as avian flu dropping steadily over the same time frame.
Of course this relates to my ongoing theme concerning the Bush Gang’s War Against Professionalism. After all, the one great trend of the 20th Century was the way people and nations kept investing ever-greater confidence in the power of skilled experts to get things done, far better than they were in the past. In contrast, from the very first weeks of the 21st Century, the Bushite assault upon the professionals of the civil service, foreign service, academia, and the Officer Corps has amounted to nothing less than an attempt to yank us back to the long human epoch when a small, super-empowered caste of mostly inherited lordships could make decisions based upon whim, rather than best-available advice, offered in an atmosphere of open due-process.
I’m not the only one to point this out -- though I doubt anyone has done so earlier or as relentlessly. One ironic nuance that I add, however, is that the same would-be feudalists who are bullying and harrying the skilled experts have ALSO been waging war against a newborn “Age of Amateurs.” The decline in confidence and competence described by McQuaid is just as much about a steady disempowerment of citizenship as it is about demolishing professionalism.
Indeed, despite the simple, reflex dichotomy, professionals and amateurs are not opposites! Think. A professional in one vocation is likely to have several other fields in which he or she has fine levels of avocation skill! The false dichotomy between pro and amateur masks an essential commonality. Indeed, the one thing that our proto-lords must fear, above all else, is that these two vast groups will ever realize their common needs and goals. Especially the greatest need of all. Open access to knowledge.
(Is it any wonder why the Bushites have attempted to shut down knowledge flows with a wave of darkness and secrecy that was never, ever matched, even in the depths of the Cold War?)
More from McQuaid:
Consider our most important national project, the attempt to build a new infrastructure for war ravaged Iraq. An audit earlier this year by the special inspector general for Iraq found that seven of the eight U.S. construction projects it surveyed -- including the generators at 's airport and a medical-waste incinerator and water-purification system in an maternity hospital -- were either broken down, not operating or otherwise substandard. A few months ago, the kitchen staff started cooking at a newly built base for guards watching the U.S. Embassy compound now being built. According to Glenn Kessler of : "Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt."
These sound like vaguely comic footnotes to the Iraq debacle. They're not. Our principal goals in Iraq -- building a new political system and defeating an insurgency -- are terribly hard jobs. But can't we even hook up stoves for our own guards without something blowing up?
Naturally, the spin doctors are at work. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich calls it a "system-wide" government breakdown that includes health care, defense, intelligence and disaster response. He says the New Deal, Great Society structure of "big government" has, in effect, stopped working.
Ah, but this does not even make sense. Because none of the processes used in this bungled foreign adventure have any relationship to the New Deal, or even Bill Clinton’s era. Indeed, the entire model for Iraq reconstruction - not to mention Hurricane Katrina and its botched aftermath - has been to throw heaps of cash at a few big companies, owned by Bush cronies, under no-bid and un-vetted contracts, without more than a fig leaf of supervision.
Exactly how does this neoconservative model for “efficient outsourcing to private enterprise” bear any relationship, whatsoever, to the processes that built the Interstate Highway System, took us to the moon, built half of the world’s universities and won the Cold War? McQuaid continues:
Bush Administration “...hostility toward the federal bureaucracy has been quite purposeful. The administration has undermined the normal workings of agencies from the CIA to the EPA, in part because they generate facts and opinions that conflict with political goals. The White House has also seeded the government with appointees chosen for loyalty and ideological affinity, not competence. All of this has taken a toll on agencies' ability to process information, devise sound policies and communicate with the public.”
And yet, article author John McQuaid is not 100% partisan in his assessment of the decline in US government competence. In fact, he sees the Katrina Disaster as indicating a longstanding decline of competence by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which in turn reflects a general fall in ability, across government, that preceded even the arrival of Bushites in power. (Science fiction readers might liken this to the grinding decline that Isaac Asimov depicted in the Galactic Empire, in his Foundation series.)
Again, we see the author use just a single example to illustrate a grouchy point. Only in this case, it is a deeply flawed example and a possibly wrongheaded point.
In fact, the problem with preparations made by the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans had little to do with competence (or lack thereof) and much to do with misplaced GOALS. Indeed, the Corps has been struggling valiantly to accomplish something that is inherently impossible. to give the people of New Orleans permanence in a situation that is completely loony, delusional and that faces an intrinsic time limit...
...the inevitable day when the Mississippi river will change its course. If anything, the Corps deserves credit and it is the PEOPLE who are to blame, in this case, for insisting on keeping things exactly as they were, instead of embracing the momentum of change. ANd yes, the American people can be childish-deluded. I never denied that.
Nevertheless, it is a good piece. Not as aggressive as I’ve been. But read by more people, I’ll admit. Such are the advantages of oversimplification.
Referring back to my more creative days, it appears that people are still mining EARTH for ideas. (I’m half kidding... and half not ;-) See the latest musings about how “cooperation” may be an emergent property from systematic and well-tuned competition. The chief theme of EARTH.