Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, February 10, 2003
I am Shocked, Shocked

Brad DeLong feels baffled by the obviously destructive elements of the Bush budget:

I truly don't understand why anyone would do this. I understand why, once the administration has decided to do this, someone like Mickey Kaus would choose to run interference for them--for him policies are not real, but just a game, epater le liberaloisie and all that--plus running interference for Mitch Daniels and company gets him points he can spend on getting future interesting news leaks from Republican hacks.

But everybody who goes into politics for real--who runs for the Congress, or takes a senior job in the Executive Branch--is a patriot. There are other careers one can enter with a much hihger probability of success that promise more in the way of fame, wealth, and the absence of boredom. Only a deep love-of-country can make someone become an Assistant Secretary of HHS or a Director of OIRA or a Representative from the area around Knoxville.

Nobody enters politics seeking to make their country poorer, weaker, and more miserable. Only patriots enter American politics. And trying to mold America's mid-twenty-first century politics into a pattern like that of present-day Argentina is not a patriotic thing to do.

There is some explanation for why people who start out as patriots would get into this position. When you start out with high ideals and get professionally involved in politics and partisan combat, it's easy to forget that the point is to make the country better, not just to win. So it becomes increasingly easy to advocate things that are politically convenient even if you know that they aren't in the best long-term interests of the country, telling yourself that you need to make compromises to win and the good you're doing makes up for it. And a politics built around two year election cycles by its very nature tends to encourage short term thinking.

But for Bush, Cheney, and many of those around them, the answer is harsher. They aren't really interested in the welfare of the country at all, only their own and that of their friends. It is true that politics isn't the most rewarding of careers, that "There are other careers one can enter with a much hihger[sic] probability of success that promise more in the way of fame, wealth, and the absence of boredom." But for these people, politics is just the public loss leader for their real career of influence peddling. Bush made more off the Texas Rangers deal than he will make in the Presidency, even if he serves a full 8 years, and all his brothers have made similar scores in deals where they put up neither money nor special skills of their own. Cheney made a fortune off Halliburton, and is probably richer than Bush. Running for party and public offices, and using them to place a network of your friends into office, is a necessary preliminary step to the real payoff. The financial prospects for a career mixing public 'service' and cashing in in the private sector are far better than Brad allows for.

I may be blinded by my own considerable hostility, but I don't believe that most of the people at the core of this administration are patriots. Remember how they took office: given a choice between deeply compromising fundamental national institutions to block a full count in Florida and accepting the possibility - not the certainty or even likelihood, but just a possibility - of losing power, they chose to trash their country's basic institutions. That is not the act of a patriot. There is no reason to be shocked that they have shown the same degree of patriotism and integrity in exercising power as they showed in obtaining it.