Friday, April 28, 2006

Paul Krugman has a column today in the New York Times about FEMA and the suggested new National Preparedness and Response Agency. It’s subscriber only, so I'll summarize so I can make my comment. Krugman points out that the new N.P.R.A. would have the same responsibilities as FEMA, except according to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “senior N.P.R.A. officials would be selected from the ranks of professionals with experience in crisis management.” Krugman suggests they must be renaming the organization because, “it’s impossible to select qualified people to run FEMA; if you try, the Crony Fairy will spirit them away and replace them with Michael Brown. But she might not know her way to N.P.R.A.” After various descriptions of the history of FEMA and cronyism under Bush, he closes with, “The United States will regain effective government if and when it gets a president who cares more about serving the nation than about rewarding his friends and scoring political points. That's at least a thousand days away. Meanwhile, don't count on FEMA, or on any other government agency, to do its job.”

Okay, so I quote better than I summarize. My point is that cronyism is not just Bush’s personal idiosyncrasy. Admittedly, he was a lousy student with an inferiority complex and a desire to show the world that intelligence and recognizable qualifications don't matter, so he appoints people that he likes, without qualifications, just to thumb his nose at the world in doing it. But when Grover Norquist says he wants to get government down to the size that he can drown it in the bathtub, that indicates a fundamental lack of respect for the role government plays in society. If you believe government agencies are unnecessary, and you are simply waiting for the deficit to force politically unpopular cuts in programs, then it doesn’t matter who heads the agency. You may as well reward the people who helped you while you wait for the agency to starve. That is a problem with Republican ideology, which won't go away in 1000 days with Bush.

In the political world, where simplified ideology reigns, it is profoundly difficult to get the party to follow two goals: downsize government, and implement good governance. It’s like asking them to perform surgery with a hatchet. Good governance requires recognizing that the right regulations are essential, and you can't do that if your belief in (as opposed to knowledge of) economics is limited to the cold war ideological battle between the extremes of libertarianism and communism.

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