Thomas Frank at it again, in the WSJ:
One reason conservatives own the antigovernment narrative is because liberals don't really offer a competing one. Maybe liberals think it wouldn't be sporting to come up with one, since doing so would necessarily mean criticizing previous administrations; maybe they feel it would be some kind of psychic concession to the cynicism they want to transcend as they lead us into the land of nicey niceness.
And yet the toxic truth is staring us right in the face: The reason government has failed so spectacularly in our time is because it's been run into the ground by antigovernment politicians. Government agencies failed because they were often turned over to industry lobbyists. Government regulators didn't regulate because they were starved for resources. The government work force had no esprit de corps because it was constantly being insulted by its bureaucrat-denouncing bosses. According to a story that ran in the Washington Post last week, government workers earn 26% less than private-sector workers in comparable jobs.Goodness. This is "the toxic truth"?
Whatever does Frank mean by this?
He is apparently honestly, truly convinced that there can be some sort of virtuous government, one far removed from politics and far removed from human nature, implementing policies with speed and grace, filled with happy employees striving for the greater good.
How disappointed he must be.
No politician born would run government into the ground: they live off government, they count their successes by the number of programs they have initiated, passed into law, manage and continue to fund. It makes no difference which party: this is a given. Or does Frank really believe that politicians kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? No, it's because Republicans have different priorities when it comes to government than Democrats do. If anything, they want to actually get things done: Democrats want government to simply be bigger because it gives them more power.
Frank lives in a fantasy world, one where governments are the selfless servers of society, the great enablers. This is a fantasy world because politicians run government, turning it into what it has become, and people, normal folks, work for the government, with all their foibles, failings and mistakes.
So the Bush administration screws up emergency operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and conservatives use the episode to call for the privatization of federal emergency operations. Government didn't work because government never works.
This is extraordinarily self-serving: the Bush Administration was blamed for the incompetency of the New Orleans Mayor and the Governor of Louisiana, at that point both Democrats, both of whom failed miserably in their jobs. President Bush waited for the call to set FEMA into action: that's the way the system worked. It's still the way the system works today.
And I know of no conservative who used Hurricane Katrina to call for the privatization of federal emergency operations. Again, a figment of Mr, Frank's imagination.
No one denies that federal bank regulators dropped the ball during the housing boom of the last decade. Conservatives, for their part, will fit that failure neatly into their usual story line, asserting that those regulators need to take the blame for the deeds of the nation's mortgage lenders, bond-rating agencies, and financial innovators. The answer, conservatives will say, is not more regulation but less. They will wave their rattlesnake flags. They will holler for freedom. They will pocket contributions from Wall Street.
And unless the president and the Democrats in Congress are prepared to steel their nerves and speak forthrightly for once about the causes of government failure, the Democrats will lose again. Nothing will be done. And failure this time around won't just look bad at the polls, it may well set the stage for another financial disaster.Oh, I see: Democratic politicians and Democratic policies had nothing to do with the housing boom. Never mind Barney Frank and Chris Dodd forcing their policies on bank regulators who wanted to close the boom down: it's the regulator's fault that the markets didn't act the way Dodd and Frank expected them to act. Let's remember that it was Barney Frank who wanted to roll the dice one more time and kept the boom going.
And who pockets more from Wall Street than the Democrats? Take a closer look at Democratic fund-raising, Mr. Frank: you'll be surprised where the money goes. Not because they believe in the Democrats, but rather because they know that the bribe works.