I often don't find myself agreeing (somewhat) with the NYT's op/ed columnist David Brooks. However, his latest column makes the same point I have: namely that we've entrusted "government" (i.e. - the act of governing) to people who don't believe in it…
Now the chief problem is not sclerosis but disorder. The biggest threats come not from nanny states but from failed states and rogue states. There is less popular fear of bureaucrats possessing too much control than of ungoverned forces surging out of control: immigration, the federal debt, Iraqi sectarianism, Islamic radicalism, Chinese mercantilism, domestic rage and polarization.
American society doesn't feel stagnant, but rather segmented. The authoritative central institutions that are supposed to organize hurricane relief, gather intelligence or pass bills into laws don't seem to be functioning.
Here at home, he's right. For all of people's grousing about government, most people realize it supplies a series of critical functions: from marketplace regulation (without which we'd live in an absolute plutocracy) to defense. Moreover, the central government <i>should</i> provide the unifying cry in a nation beset with problems (terrorism, energy crunch, corporate malfeasance, etc.)… Our leader should be pointing out the problems while rallying the nation and setting on a course to address these problems.
Middle-class suburbanites understood this shift far more quickly than the professional conservatives in Washington. What people wanted post-9/11 was Giuliani-ism on a global scale — someone who was assertive and decisive enough to assume authority and take situations that seemed ungovernable and make them governable.
But out leader doesn't seem to understand <i>how</i> to use authority to unite. His rhetoric and actions divide us. His pronouncement -- made with religious certainty -- leave no room for compromise or even debate: his world is black-and-white, and if you don't see it that way -- well, you'll likely part of the problem.
[He] has never felt comfortable with government and its institutions. As Fred Barnes wrote in his book "Rebel-in-Chief," Bush and his team operate in Washington like an occupying army of insurgents, an "alien in the realm of the governing class." Ever the visionary, Bush told Barnes that his interest "is not the means, it is the results."
But statesmanship consists precisely of understanding the relationship between the means at your disposal and the ends you seek to pursue. Bush has had trouble exerting authority because he and some of his advisers have been aloof from or hostile to the inescapable and legitimate institutions of authority in this country.
The first job of any Republican administration is to figure out how to use government agencies, which are staffed by people who may be liberals, but who are also professionals. The tightly controlled Bush White House has not successfully done that. Can anyone imagine a more thankless job than being a Bush cabinet secretary (unless you happen to be Donald Rumsfeld)?
And even at 29% approval, our leader isn't likely to change. We can only hope our society and system of government can recover from the debacle. We'll certainly be paying for it for a long time to come: both socially and economically.