Day By Day

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bush and the "Professionals"

Michael Barone has a perceptive set of observations on NYT reporter James Risen's new book which is highly critical of the administration's handling of the war and national security overall. He writes:

Risen makes it quite clear how he thinks the government should be run. Elected officials like the president and vice president and top presidential appointees should sit quietly in their chairs. They should not meet, at least not very often. They should wait for career government employees—"the experts who understand the region"—to "forge a consensus." Policy should always be kept "toward the center," regardless of what the American people or their elected president think.

So that is the New York Times's idea, or at least this New York Times reporter's idea, of how democratic representative government should work. Unelected bureaucrats should rule. If the policies produced by their understanding of the region should produce September 11, they should still rule. Elected officials' jobs are to sit in their chairs, to meet infrequently if at all, and to accept the decisions of the unelected and for the most part unremovable bureaucrats.

Read the whole thing here.

I frequently talk with current or former high-level beltway bureaucrats [the "professionals" they call themselves] and they unanimously express contempt for political appointees. Just last week one of these told me that, though she was a lifelong Democrat, she had never been partisan before, but the "Bush crowd" had made her so. Her complaint -- they're all a bunch of "political hacks" who don't listen to "the professionals."

I have been hearing similar complaints since the early months of Bush's first administration, and they illustrate an important aspect of modern American political culture -- the marginalization of democratic processes.

Through the long decades of the Cold War a vast and ever-growing federal bureaucracy aggrandized to itself more and more of the functions of government. These career professionals, in the executive and judicial branches, actively resent interference from the political class.

One of Bush's most endearing qualities, at least to me, is his utter contempt for the "cult of expertise" and the credentialing institutions that support it. This has earned him the undying enmity of the Beltway nomenklatura and their loyal apparatchiki, and largely explains the endless barrage of critical leaks, books, articles, etc. pouring out of Washington and academia.

Bush is leading a revolt against the entrenched elites in academia, the judiciary, and the executive agencies -- the self-styled "meritocracy"[or if you prefer -- they do -- the "best and the brightest"]. In his person he fuses their two greatest foes, ones that they thought had been vanquished long ago -- democratic populism and the old WASP elite. It's no wonder they hate him so much.

As for myself, all I can say is "go Dubya, go Dubya, go Dubya!"

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