On Our Own

There are a couple of items in the news today reminding us that the conservative philosophy of government is not to govern at all.

Item one, an editorial in today’s New York Times:

Over the last several years, America’s imbalances in trade and other global transactions have worsened dramatically, requiring the United States to borrow billions of dollars a day from abroad just to balance its books.

The only lasting way to fix the imbalances — and reduce that borrowing — is to increase America’s savings. But the administration has steadfastly rejected that responsible approach since it would require rolling back excessive tax cuts and engaging in government-led health care reform to rein in looming crushing costs — both, anathema to President Bush. It would also require revamping the nation’s tax incentives so that they create new savings by typical families, instead of new shelters for the existing wealth of affluent families — another nonstarter for this White House.

Stymied by what it won’t do, the administration has gone for a quicker fix — letting the dollar slide. A weaker dollar helps to ease the nation’s imbalances by making American exports more affordable, thus narrowing the trade deficit.

But to be truly effective, a weaker dollar must be paired with higher domestic savings. Otherwise, the need to borrow from abroad remains large, even as a weakening currency makes dollar-based debt less attractive. That’s the trap the nation is slipping into today. Among other ills, it could lead to a deterioration in American living standards as money flows abroad to pay foreign creditors, leaving less to spend at home on critical needs. Or, it could lead to abrupt spikes in interest rates as American debtors are forced to pay whatever it takes to get the loans they need.

In volatile economic times like now, leadership is crucial — and notably absent with this administration.

I’d say what we’re really dealing with is not a lack of leadership, but negative leadership. By that I mean a stubborn refusal to deal rationally with the nation’s problems accompanied by an equally stubborn refusal not to let anyone else deal with those problems, either. The Bush Administration accumulates power and won’t share it with anyone, but neither will the Bush Administration use that power to anyone’s benefit but its own.

Item two is an article in today’s Washington Post by Spencer Hsu:

A decision by the Bush administration to rewrite in secret the nation’s emergency response blueprint has angered state and local emergency officials, who worry that Washington is repeating a series of mistakes that contributed to its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago.

State and local officials in charge of responding to disasters say that their input in shaping the National Response Plan was ignored in recent months by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials, despite calls by congressional investigators for a shared overhaul of disaster planning in the United States.

“In my 19 years in emergency management, I have never experienced a more polarized environment between state and federal government,” said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma’s emergency management chief and president of a national association of state emergency managers.

The national plan is supposed to guide how federal, state and local governments, along with private and nonprofit groups, work together during emergencies. Critics contend that a unilateral approach by Washington produced an ill-advised response plan at the end of 2004 — an unwieldy, 427-page document that emphasized stopping terrorism at the expense of safeguarding against natural disasters. …

…Testifying before a House panel last week, Ashwood and colleagues openly questioned why the draft was revised behind closed doors. The final document was to be released June 1, at the start of this year’s hurricane season.

Federal officials, Ashwood said, appear to be trying to create a legalistic document to shield themselves from responsibility for future disasters and to shift blame to states. “It seems that the Katrina federal legacy is one of minimizing exposure for the next event and ensuring future focus is centered on state and local preparedness,” he said.

We’re approaching the second anniversary of Katrina. Soon there will be a flood of retrospective articles documenting how little has actually been done to put New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities back on their feet. As I wrote nearly a year ago, Bush said he wanted “local folks” to make decisions about how to proceed with recovery. But along with the fact that most of the big contracts were made between the feds and their pet contractors — local talent need not apply — the Bush Administration overrode many of the decisions those “local folks” made.

A year ago The Center for America’s Future released a report (PDF) documenting the failures of the Bush Administration to respond to Katrina. The Bushies failed to prepare, they failed to respond, and they have failed to rebuild. And behind these failures was more than just sheer incompetence; it was conservative ideology. The disabling factors were rightie disdain for government, their reckless determination to privatize core functions (placing blind faith in the market without oversight or accountability) and their fondness for “pay-to-play” politics, in which money capitalism and personal gain count for more than performance. These three “beliefs,” beloved of the extreme Right, are crippling America.

As I wrote yesterday, the Right was able to “sell” this extremist agenda to America by dominating media and the nation’s political culture, freezing out any point of view but theirs. The Right claimed the center and enforced that claim with bluster and intimidation. And for a time the majority of Americans more or less went along with the Right’s agenda, mostly because that was the only agenda presented to them. Finally people are waking up, but as long as the Bushies and their cronies hang on to power, America will continue to weaken from within and without.

In the last post I wrote that many on the Right Blogosphere sincerely believe America is being weakened by disloyalty to the President. Speaking out against him emboldens the enemy, you know. Never mind that a citizens’ right to speak out against incompetent and mismanaged government is what makes democracy possible. I said, “Right wingers hunger and thirst for authoritarianism, because real freedom scares them witless. They’re happier with a dictator telling them what to do, and they’re too cowardly to admit it.”

Naturally, some brainwashed twit came along and said, “Do you not find anything authoritarian about the Nanny State?”

Let’s think about this, people. In Rightie World, we must not be allowed to have government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We, the People must not elect leaders who will enact government services like Social Security or Medicare or safety net provisions or universal health care. Because, say righties, using elected, representative government to fulfill the mandate of the Constitution — “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” etc. — is totalitarianism.

On the other hand, enforcing knee-jerk loyalty to the President by either law or social pressure is what will safeguard our freedoms.

Can we say, these people are flaming lunatics? I believe so.

I fear that someday Americans will find themselves living in a post-industrial backwater, and our status as the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet will be a dim memory. Our only hope is to use the representative government established by the Constitution to restore sanity to government. But the right-wing crazies are doing their damnedest to destroy that, too.