Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Behind the Curtain of Bad Government Decisions

A trio of good articles illuminate the process of some really bad decisions and bad government.

First up, from The Wall Street Journal’s free opinion site, John Fund explains why the vetting of Harriet Miers and her subsequent selection by George Bush as his Supreme Court nominee was so very poor. He paints a picture that will be familiar to anyone who read about Paul O’Neill’s stint in the Bush administration in The Price of Loyalty, and other accounts... This is a place where dissent is seen as disloyalty and speaking truth to power is difficult if not outright discouraged. Beyond matters of ideology, the question of competence continually reappears in all in-depth accounts of the Bush administration (in order to make good decisions, one must first set up a system that encourages rather than discourages accurate information).

Meanwhile, The Washington Monthly’s cover story is a fascinating (and chilling) portrait of Patrick McHenry, a young Republican congressman from North Carolina. The article gives great insight into the crucial role the College Republicans play in the GOP as well as offering a rather scathing view of McHenry. Author Benjamin Wallace-Wells notes:

Like most of the post-Gingrich generation, McHenry's ultimate loyalty is less to principle or ideology than to the machine itself.

One of the most striking passages in the article reports that:

McHenry's credit union bill, a high priority for the banking lobby, has received strong backing from DeLay. The Republican leadership awarded McHenry a seat on the House Financial Services Committee upon his arrival in Washington. “Most people would say it's the most plum assignment you can get,” one conservative lobbyist told me, “because you can leverage it to do so much in fundraising.” But first you have to prove yourself. Asking McHenry to author a bill that undermines the interest of half his constituents is the political equivalent of demanding a young Mafia enforcer kill his cousin as a test of loyalty. “It's a bill that a lot of us are watching,” a conservative activist from Mecklenberg County who has been skeptical about McHenry told me. “It's pretty clear that here McHenry is picking Washington over his district, and we're interested to see if he pays any price for it.”

Subsequent paragraphs describe how McHenry lies to his constituents (say “he deliberately misleads them” if you like, but I call it lying). His campaign tactic, twice, consists purely of claiming he’s the more conservative candidate, even when he’s not, while offering no real policy.

The resulting portrait is of a young man who is all slogan and no substance, who views power as a goal unto itself, and who feels his constituents serve him, not the other way around. He is precisely that sort of politician who gives politicians a bad name.

Still, McHenry’s self-serving moves are as nothing compared to the master machinations of The Hammer and his buddies. A long but rewarding article from The Washington Post by Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi explains how fellow “indictees” Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay and David Safavian worked to kill an anti-gambling bill in the House in 2000. Essentially they falsely portrayed the bill as pro-gambling to the conservative Christian groups that supported it, and also used intimidation and a series of bribes or “donations” to grease things along. Delay in particular comes off as someone who preaches social conservatism (anti-gambling) while his true loyalty lies with selected businesses (online gambling company eLottery, for one). Abramoff of course was taking money from Indian tribes to lobby for them even as he actually lobbied against them. Tony C. Rudy, a senior aide to Delay who later worked for Abramoff, served as a crucial link, and his actions provide a compelling picture for how Abramoff and Delay were simpatico and how the ol’ boy network works when it comes to money and legislation. Also implicated, of course is:

Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show. Abramoff also turned to prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, arranging to route some of eLottery's money for Reed through Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.

(Norquist, of course, is close friends with Karl Rove, Rove’s secretary used to work for Norquist, and supposedly Norquist advised her as to which phone calls Rove should take. Rove has not been drawn into the Abramoff or Delay scandals as of yet, and has his own glaring problems right now... but I mention him to show this old boy social network is very real.)

Honestly, I find it’s hard to untangle all the stories of Abramoff’s villainy, so I’ve been waiting for the court cases to get under way and the eventual postmortem to make sense of it all. In-depth features like this, though, serve an invaluable function by explaining not only why these men are scoundrels but how they achieve their skullduggery.

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