Say what?

David Brooks (here, behind the paywall) seems to have completely drug his anchor to–to reality? to common sense? to a laugh test mooring?

Along the way, he’s [Bruce Bartlett] emerged as the most articulate spokesman for the view, which I hear all the time now, that Bush has betrayed conservatism [usual litany recited here]… .It’s a coherent case, but it’s wrong. Bush hasn’t abandoned conservatism; he’s modernized and saved it….Almost single-handedly, Bush reconnected with the positive and idealistic instincts of middle-class Americans. He did it by recasting conservatism more significantly than anyone had since Ronald Reagan. He rejected the prejudice that the private sector is good and the public sector is bad, and he tried to use government to encourage responsible citizenship and community service….This is not to say that Bush’s approach to government is fully coherent. The tragedy of the Bush administration is that it never matched its unorthodox governing philosophy with an unorthodox political strategy or an unorthodox management style…. Despite all the mistakes that have been made, it is nonetheless true that Bush has ennobled and saved American conservatism [with] a vision of using government positively to give people the tools to run their own lives…..He talked about helping moms afford child care and helping the people of Darfur survive.

David, it’s not a matter of “not fully coherent” or lack of an “unorthodox management style”: it’s that every single thing his administration has turned its hand to, except lying to win elections, it’s trashed! Bush and his people suck at vision, suck at making reasonable plans, suck at implementation, suck at planning, suck at intelligence and predicting, and suck at leadership. Cutting taxes and spending like a drunken sailor isn’t some new kind of conservatism, it’s an old kind of lunatic irresponsibility, the sort of thing the Bavarians put Ludwig in a soft room for. Sending the army and marines off undermanned and ill-equipped to be wrecked in the desert because Cheney had a pole up his rear end about Iraq isn’t a shining new conservatism, it’s criminal negligence. Stuffing the only government we have, and now the Supreme Court, with people who can’t get through a day on their new jobs without spectacular blunders isn’t a lack of unorthodox management, it’s plain old really bad management! Farm bill, steel bill, FEMA, socialsecurityAbramoffMiersToraBoraonandonandon, a Niagara of bad ideas and botches.

In case you haven’t noticed, moms can afford less child care and the people of Darfur are dying more. Talk about is actually different from doing. Lincoln “talked about” preserving the union and empowering the slaves to be free, but what matters is that he gave an army what it needed, fired general after general until he got a couple of good ones, and did it. Take-away point from this paragraph, read slowly here, out loud if it helps: Talking about stuff, (what you and I do for a living): trivial, inconsequential; doing stuff: important, what matters. Maybe flash cards would help?

This new banner to which conservatives may repair is no more than a lot of gas about things that either don’t happen, or trap victims underneath as they crash to earth. It’s not a strong record with the occasional misstep, it’s an absolutely consistent and unprecedented record of screw-ups and malfeasance, coupled to the exact opposite of “giving people the tools to run their own lives”. David, you need to understand, in ordinary discourse, when we use people as you did right there, we mean something like “most people” or “the people.” We don’t mean “the two percent of people who might pay an estate tax and live in gated communities and already have more ‘tools’ than they have time to use”, or “the people sucking on the tit of enormous no-bid contracts” or “the people who golf with DeLay in Scotland”. Mom or Dad coming back from Iraq in a box doesn’t help the family run their own lives. Paying off our foreign creditors for generations won’t help us run our own lives.

Readers, if you look out your window early in the morning, you may see our lamented David waving from his hot air balloon as he rises entirely out of sight. Wave back.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.