Journal Entry

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Ports

Okay, so, I consider George Bush to be one of our worst and most dangerous presidents ever. Not because he's spectacularly personally incompetent (despite all the teeth-gnashing about his grades and so on, he's probably squarely in the low-middle range of historical Presidential competence, given his aims). Nor because he's a raving zealot (my assessment is that he's an extremist in certain regards, and a party hack, but not delusional).

No, it's that because he's charismatic and aw-shucks-good-hearted and mildly-competent and, in certain regards, visionary (that he actually believes in the furtherance of worldwide democracy, while it excuses neither the bloody-minded means, the overreach, nor the rather debased definition of democracy that he holds, is perversely striking in a context of widespread cynicism about the notion) enough that his moral flaws -- the extremely high value he places on personal loyalty to the exclusion of other goods, his stubbornness, his disinterest in the idea of civil rights and actual personal liberty, his extreme degree of comfort with the military-industrial complex and the culture of cronyism, his facile and parochial and fuzzy and circular moral sensibility wherein you can do anything you like to the bad guys because they're the bad guys -- these flaws actually have far greater weight than if he were a madman or a fool.

It's because he's kind of a nice guy with some interesting things to say that we've ended up mired in a land war in Asia, abandoning the Bill of Rights, defending widespread and routine torture by American agencies, on a steep plummet into national budgetary bankruptcy, with an even more bloated Federal bureaucracy even less capable of responding to national disasters, somewhat more (and a good deal more justly) despised by the world.

The thing about Richard Nixon is he knew he was corrupt; he knew he was greedy for power, and I think he felt ashamed about it, enough to obsessively and furtively hide his misdeeds. George W. Bush has, I think, no idea that he's corrupt -- he thinks helping out your buddies is just what you do. I think he has no idea that committing treason, e.g. in the matter of Valerie Plame, is wrong.

Which is why it's with great chagrin that I find myself siding with Bush this week in the matter of the port system.

It seems like if you are going to sell some function of government to private industry, it is spectacularly naive to think that some extra measure of protection will be provided by having the owners of the company in question be (as Howard Dean just implied they should be, in the cafeteria TV in my office building where I was just microwaving lunch) Americans.

It rather seems like government should police the important bits itself, and the other bits, the ones you can sell off to private operators, should be, you know, for sale.

Opposing this -- not restructuring port security in general, mind you, just opposing a one-off sale of a port to some Ay-rabs -- seems like nauseatingly transparent political gamesmanship. How did the Democrats decide, exactly, that the way to recapture the hearts of American voters was to try and be more xenophobic and security-hysterical than the Republicans?

Posted by benrosen at March 1, 2006 05:03 PM | Up to blog
Comments

It is political gamesmenship. The lack of ideas is why Bush, with his ideas, is successful at all. He has them; knee jerk reaction is not an idea. Hating Bush is not an idea.

Oddly, I haven't seen much mention of the fact that one of the leading container operators in America is NSCSA...owned by the Saudis. Who, if not the contanier operator, is going to know how security works? They have to follow it.

If the idea is that xenophopic reaction to Arabs running our ports because of WMD protects our safety then why aren't the various shrill voices including _all_ of the Arabs that operate out of our ports in their rants? Because it isn't about ideas, or leadership or civic duty but rather to gain power.

In the country of the blind the guy with the coke bottle eyeglasses rules.

Posted by: quilly mammoth at March 2, 2006 09:44 PM

I wouldn't feel much safer if, say, Halliburton were in charge of the ports. Of course, one of the issues is not so much the foreign-ness of the company, but that they were given a bunch of breaks outside normal processes, which, again, would have been given (or taken) by almost any American company I can imagine being given the contracts anyway.

That doesn't mean I side with Our Only President, though. As a policy matter he may be right, or at least not entirely wrong, but as a procedural matter he is showing (a) his contempt for out ordinary processes, and (2) his contempt for the legislature and legislation. In both of those, he is wrong. Not as wrong as in cases where he expresses both of those and comes to a bad policy, but still wrong.

All of that said, what do you want Democrats to do? Broker a deal between Republicans and Republicans? Or attempt to explain to their constituents that, really, terrorism was never that much of a threat to our ports, and we have been over-reacting all this time, and they will be all writing books in their rapidly upcoming retirement years about it all?

Thanks,
-V.

Posted by: Vardibidian at March 4, 2006 09:19 AM

Some Democrats seem to be handling it better than others. Dean seemed almost to be frothing about foreigners in general. Pelosi, in contrast, seemed mainly focussed on the broader issues of port security, in particular that we should raise our standards of scanning shipping containers to those of Hong Kong.

What I'd like them to do is to say "Dubai, whatever; let's talk about how foreign adventurism is not an adequate substitute for inspections and police work."

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 4, 2006 05:07 PM

Fair enough. That would be nice. And, I should say, some Democrats have been handling it worse than others. It sounded to me like people were confusing the political principle of staying out of the way while the other party makes itself look bad with the political principle of kicking a fellah while he's down. And, I suppose, it's legitimate (more or less) to argue that this foreign government has a particularly bad record of etcetera etcetera whilst maintaining a straight face for the duration of Our Only President's trip to Pakistan.

May I also point out (in your blog, which I know is rude of me, but there it is) that what is supposed to help presidents like Our Only President who seem to have no idea that their actions could possibly be both wrong and harmful is an established civil service with an established set of procedures. If the proper procedures are followed, nothing truly visionary gets done, which is how we get a hundred and fifty years or so of stability. Comparative stability. We ain't in it with Rome, but our civil service is young, yet.

Er, Imperial Rome. Not post-WWII Rome. In case you were laughing.

Now, this administration (working on twenty years or more of anti-government rhetoric) took the opportunity to throw the civil service and proper procedure overboard, and since then has been going by guess and by Gd. This whole political business about the ports is something that should never have got anywhere near this far, and wouldn't have, if these guys knew or cared anything about the proper procedures. Either they would have cleared it with their party and it would have quietly passed, or their party would have killed it before it became an issue, or they even could have (procedurally) made it happen without bringing it to the legislature at all. But because they don't know what they are doing but are damned sure they don't need to read the manual, they set themselves up for this, em, is debacle the right word? I don't know. I don't think it even rises to the level of debacle.

Thanks for your patience, but somehow I just wanted to gripe,
-Vardibidian.

Posted by: Vardibidian at March 5, 2006 10:19 PM
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