Day By Day

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Revolt of the Mandarins

This is a nice summary of what, I would argue, is the most important threat facing the American people today. It's not the economy. It's not a foreign enemy. It is the slow erosion of democracy by an emerging mandarinate.

A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people is not a government where the employees act as if they own the place. When you get this attitude, you end up with mandarins who slowly hollow out representative government by introducing and then nurturing the idea that the bureaucrats can do as they please, training their putative political masters to no longer insist on obedience and accept that they to have become supplicants to the bureaucrats.

We're nowhere near even halfway along in the process.... But what's truly disturbing is that this is a problem that affects politicians of all stripes and nobody makes an issue of it. The DoD rebels against Clinton and the right quietly averts its gaze. State rebels against GWB and the left practically cheers them on.

It's gone on long enough that routine disobedience to political direction has become entrenched. People don't bat an eye when they talk about this or that political appointee being "captured" by their department and becoming the bureaucracies emissary to the President instead of the President's man directing the bureaucracy. It's a gathering storm, more serious than Iraq, though the slowness of the political disease's progression gives us a lot more time to ponder the problem.

Read the whole thing here.

I remember early in the Bush administration having conversations with high-ranking bureaucrats who complained about "political appointees" trying to tell them how to do their jobs. Their disdain for the elected representatives of the public was palpable. One of them routinely referred to States as "provinces". I watched over succeeding years as bureaucrats in the military, in the intelligence services, in the State Department, and elsewhere systematically (and with the support of leading Democrats who, to their eternal shame, hoped to gain political advantage from the controversies) obstructed the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq and elsewhere. The sight was both alarming and frightening.

More and more of the functions of government are being insulated from democratic pressures. More and more the permanent bureaucracy is both setting and implementing policies with casual disregard for the political process. Americans sense this disconnect and take out their frustrations on the President or on Congress, but the real problem is with the irresponsible and unresponsive federal bureaucracy.