I have long held the belief that conservatives are especially ill-suited for the important work of government. Which makes it all the more comical to watch as they trip over themselves, scrambling to take charge of government programs they want to eliminate, spending their hard-earned corporate profits to win the White House, Congress or the NC state legislature.
This month's American Prospect has an excellent article on the subject that is well worth your time and attention. Though it focuses on the decline of competence at the federal level, there are valuable insights for those of us working on state and local government. I've pulled out a few choice paragraphs to give you a flavor for the piece . . . with some commentary to follow.
The collapse of the Bush presidency is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the rich--the better.
This is, of course, the central mantra of our own coven of conservatives here in North Carolina. With the John Locke Foundation infecting every aspect of governance with its free-market mania, they are a band that plays a single, sour note no matter what the occasion. From their Freedom Budget to their continuing calls for "tax relief," these people care not a whit about solving problems or promoting progress. Their only mission is gaining power so they can crush the government they aspire to control.
But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.
Make no mistake. This is the fate that awaits North Carolina if Art Pope succeeds in buying the state legislature. With no interest in public health, public education or public service, PopeCo aspires to replicating the Bush/Rove model of irresponsible governance right here in our own backyard.