September 16, 2005
-- by Gary Boatwright
Bilmon has a devastating critique of the structural failulre and incompetence of why the entire line of reactionary conservatism from Nixon to Bush is a policy failure at the most fundamental level.
But the Reagan administration also wasn't the first GOP team to try to bring the federal beast to heel. While I was on the "govvie" beat, I came across a book called The Plot that Failed: Nixon and the Administrative Presidency, which recounted Tricky Dick's efforts to neuter his cabinet and gain direct control over the bureaucracy. This struggle took various forms -- including the creation of OMB, upstaging cabinet secretaries (like Kissinger's end runs around the State of State Bill Rodgers), inserting Nixon loyalists in key subcabinet postitions, and impounding appropriated funds (to show the agencies they couldn't cut their own deals with Congress.)
Here's a blast from the past that is a real kicker:
DiIulio's letter to Ron Suskind, which became the basis for a revealing piece in Esquire magazine, is worth rereading now:In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical, non-stop, 20-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking -- discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.
. . . This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis -- staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible. These folks have their predecessors in previous administrations (left and right, Democrat and Republican), but, in the Bush administration, they were particularly unfettered.
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