Monday, September 12, 2005

Can't Win, Don't Try

Is it worthwhile to point out - again - how incoherent and dishonest David Brooks is? Is there any glory in taking up one's lance against this puny dragon, whose fire has gone out and whose cunning little claws couldn't shred rotted silk?

Probably not. That said, in his latest column, Brooks examines

...the paradox at the heart of the Katrina disaster, which is that we really need government in times like this, but government is extremely limited in what it can effectively do.
Here we have the clarion call of modern conservatism: "We're doomed to be third-rate, so let's not even try to excel." Apparently, our complaints about the unnecessary suffering in New Orleans stem from an irrational belief that our government has the ability to act promptly and wisely in defense of this country's citizens.

I'm not sure where we got that idea. Perhaps it was from BushCo's insistence that they - and only they - knew how to keep America safe, and how to respond promptly and wisely to disasters, and that voting for anyone else would be tantamount to national suicide. If so, Brooks has decided it's time to burst that bubble. If you're juggling machetes while reading this, or operating a pavement saw, please stop before reading any further; your most cherished beliefs are about to be trampled into the dust, and it's more than likely that you'll swoon.
[T]he brutal fact is, government tends toward bureaucracy, which means elaborate paper flow but ineffective action. Government depends on planning, but planners can never really anticipate the inevitable complexity of events. And American government is inevitably divided and power is inevitably devolved.
I have no idea what "devolved" means, in this context. I doubt Brooks does either, so we'll let it alone.

I'm startled by all this talk about the "inevitable complexity of events," though. BushCo promised me moral clarity..."the kind men like," as the saying is. Not long ago, complexity, nuance, and ambiguity were of interest solely to coast-dwelling metrosexuals who put kiwi slices on their cheesecake, instead of the honest, unassuming strawberries favored at no-frills diners throughout Red America.

But now, suddenly, this world of stark moral absolutes is obscured by a fog of elitist doublespeak. Suddenly, events are complex. And American government is no help at all; it's ineffective, impuissant, and - lest we forget - "devolved." One wonders where Brooks hid this fearsome arsenal of defeatist pathopoeia in the months before our invasion of Iraq.

If nothing else, Our Hero has indeed convinced me that events are inevitably complicated. So what's to be done? Not much. As a wise man once said, you can't make a slim chance of improvement the enemy of stasis:
This preparedness plan is government as it really is. It reminds us that canning Michael Brown or appointing some tough response czar will not change the endemic failures at the heart of this institutional collapse.
In other words, you can't win, so don't try. After all, if banishing one or two incompetent flunkies can't cure what ails us, how could banishing the criminally negligent failure who hired them?

Here's the final paragraph. It's a perfect little gem, in its own way:
So of course we need limited but energetic government. But liberals who think this disaster is going to set off a progressive revival need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America's faith in big government.
You can say what you like, but Brooks really is an exceedingly cute character. He understands that we need "limited but energetic government" - an empty phrase that could mean anything at all - but the liberals simply expect Katrina to "restore America's faith in big government." Brooks' deployment of false dichotomies is always heavy-handed, but this is sophistry above and beyond the call of duty.

And this is the worst of all possible worlds. The Bush Administration is simultaneously the biggest and the most incompetent American government ever seen. But a disaster in which that administration was responsible for the lives of Americans, and failed to protect them, proves not that Bush is a bad president - nor that anti-human monsters of vanity like Grover Norquist have been wrong about virtually everything - but that government is the enemy and social programs are bad and bureaucratic incompetence is the natural way of things, world without end, amen.

In other words, BushCo's failure actually validates its own ideology. The only people whose worldviews must adjust to Katrina are liberals. Clever people like David Brooks recognized in this disaster nothing more unsettling than the confirmation of a pet dogma. Heads they win, tails we lose.

A sane reader would probably want to know how Brooks' "limited but energetic government" would respond to natural and manmade disasters, and whether that response would involve lolling around on vacation while a city is destroyed, or starving and brutalizing American citizens, or blocking their escape routes, or letting people in nursing homes drown like rats, or leaving doctors with no choice but to euthanize their patients. Those are the questions Katrina raises; those are also, not surprisingly, the questions Brooks ignores.

We can certainly agree that government is prone to failures, but not all failures are commensurable. Doctors fail too, but there's a difference between the doctor who misdiagnoses my case of mono as the flu, and the one who saws both my legs off by mistake. Neither doctor is ideal, but one is clearly much worse than the other. Our government may be prone to failure and corruption, but that's no reason to put a corrupt, criminally negligent failure in charge of it.


Anonymous said...

Don't really know what to say. You seem to have covered all bases. Of course, government can't take care us, therefore we shouldn't try. More tax cuts will solve the problem. Pretty soon the loons can justify not doing anything because there is no money available. They won't blame the war or even Clenis. Nope, this time they will blame Katrina and point out that even though they spent a shitload of money, the problems weren't solved. Better to do nothing and save all that money that corporations will use to create more jobs. Or something.

filkertom said...

So, there's no point in having government do stuff, because stuff is hard work. Aiee. I don't suppose it's possible to hate these incompetent thieves more, but they keep giving me reasons. And Brooksie couldn't make an honest point if someone wrote it out for him beforehand.