Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why Conservatives Can’t Govern

That headline is the title of a major article by Alan Wolfe that appears in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly. Wolfe teaches political science at Boston College and is the author of Does American Democracy Still Work published by Yale University Press.

Wolfe lays out a neat pocket history of conservative thought in America from the time of the American Revolution to the era of the Goldwater revolution and beyond. It’s a nice referesher course.

The heart of Wolfe’s argument I take to be this—and if I mis-take it, you can get it straight by reading the article—you can’t govern efficiently while you are committed to the notion that government is an evil.

As an example consider Wolfe’s analysis of the prescription drug fiasco:

“It is significant that in America's recent debates over prescription drugs, no one, not even the Cato Institute, argued that government should simply not be in the business at all. A political party which consigned to death anyone who could not afford to participate in this medical revolution would die an early death itself.

“But Republicans were just as unwilling to design a sensible program as they were unable to eliminate the existing one. To prove their faith in the market, they gave people choices, when what they wanted was predictability. To pay off the pharmaceutical industry, they refused to allow government to negotiate drug prices downward, thereby vastly inflating the program's costs. To make sure government agencies didn't administer the benefit, they lured in insurance companies with massive subsidies and imposed almost no rules on what benefits they could and could not offer. The lack of rules led to a frustrating chaos of choices. And the extra costs had to be made up by carving out a so-called "doughnut hole" in which the elderly, after having their drug purchases subsidized up to a certain point, would suddenly find themselves without federal assistance at all, only to have their drugs subsidized once again at a later point.

"Caught between the market and the state, Republicans picked the worst features of each. No single human being could have designed a program as unwieldy as this one. It took the combined efforts of every faction in today's conservative movement to produce a public policy so removed from common sense.” (My italics)

Read it all here.


Chris said...

Govern? Heck, they can't even be civil to eachother.


x4mr said...

Very interesting post, Art, and a terrific article. Will state up front I am not a political science professor at Boston University and don’t pretend to operate at that level. Still, I do have some remarks.

Paradigms are shifting when…

There are increased arguments about seeing and doing
There are extensive reports and data on failures
There is increasing dissatisfaction and confusion amongst practitioners
Performance deteriorates and alters political order
There is an increased search for alternative approaches.

Richard Heydinger

If we think of the government as an "employee" that has a "job to do" and for that job gets paid its tax revenues, the conservative viewpoint is one that wants to have the employee take on less responsibility, a smaller job description, and receive less pay.

I assert that this is complete lunacy in the face of current reality. I think the job always has, currently is, and perhaps always will be subject to "scope creep" that will only accelerate before it has any chance of subsiding.

The true job description is getting bigger, not smaller, with several unavoidable factors increasing the load on our government’s plate.

1. Our collision course with sustainability issues, of which global warming is just the beginning.
2. Rapid advances in technology
3. Globalization
4. Equity issues (elite few have almost everything), which is a major root of the war on terror as well as immigration. So long as huge populations live in squalor or near squalor with little or no sense of possibility or change, they will either try to beat us (terrorism) or join us (immigration).
5. Aging US population and upcoming healthcare and social security train wreck.

At least with Clinton, we had an administration seeking to govern effectively. Will skip supporting examples—they are numerous and not difficult to find.

We desperately need elected officials who are far more concerned with understanding the real job to be done and getting it done effectively and efficiently, and far less concerned with cutting the government’s paycheck (not their own, of course) and leaving critical tasks done with sheer incompetence (prescription drugs, Iraq (senior most decisions)) or not done at all (dependence on oil, global warming, healthcare).

Really praying that the complete disaster of the Bush administration wakes enough folks up to not only say Never Again! to anyone like him, but also to the obsolete ideas on which his views are based.