The national Republican party feels at home campaigning. Attack ads, nasty whispering campaigns, intimations of inadequacy, thinly veiled threats … it’s a mindset they’re comfortable in. They slide into it like the body into a dance learned years ago, kinetic memory taking over. Parry, thrust, bazooka.
It’s not so surprising, the U.S. attorney firing scandal. We’ve known for a long time that there was nothing they wouldn’t use. We’ve known about it at least since Valerie Plame was outed, maybe before that, maybe all the way back to McCain in South Carolina, that there was nothing they wouldn’t leverage for political gain.
What the U.S. attorney firing scandal proves is that there’s really only one thing these guys know how to do. And so when they get elected, they act like governing is still campaigning because that’s all they know. They don’t get that it’s a different process, that you have to do boring shit like hire competent people to run FEMA and the Justice Department, that you have to hire competent people even if they’re assholes who disagree with you because in the long run that’s what needs to happen to get the job done.
At every turn in the past seven years, before every major disaster, the Bush administration instead of hiring some bureaucrats who’d be dull and insist on compliance with the law hired party political hacks who shoved their ideology into places expertise should have been and made fucked-up situations worse. FEMA during Katrina, the OSP before the war, Condi in the State Department, Bremer in Iraq. The kids from the Heritage Foundation losing billions in Baghdad.
Campaigning is all they knew how to do. So when they got elected and had to govern, they just kept on campaigning. Mission Accomplished. Path to 9/11. Photo ops instead of action, shopping instead of enlistment, blaming the victims instead of airlifting them away from the flood. It’s a different job, campaigning is, and it calls for different talents these days than governing does. Plenty of good politicians are middling campaigners (Kerry, Gore, etc) and plenty of good campaigners get their asses into the chair and then go, “Oh, shit, now this actually has to work.“
But they could have learned, you know, and if you’re a Republican you’ve got to be pissed off, that they could have done what they promised to do during the 2000 campaign and actually listened to smart people around them. They could have left some departments alone while they were handing out jobs to their cronies like candy corn at a carnival. They could have taken classes, for chrissake, in policy and procedure, and what you’re expected to do and they could have learned to be grown-ups once they got into the job, for the sake of the country and their own miserable souls.
Instead, they just kept right on campaigning, and this is the result:
“Eight U.S. attorneys who did not play ball with the political agenda of this administration were dropped from the team,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We have a right to ask what that political agenda was and whether or not it was a reasonable firing and dismissal.”
Some of the fired prosecutors testified last week that lawmakers leaned on them to speed up prosecutions that would hurt Democrats. Others said they felt intimidated by the agency to stay quiet. All of them were miffed by the Justice Department’s contention that the dismissals were performance-related. The department then fired back, enumerating publicly what were described as performance problems for each of the fired prosecutors.
Gonzales at first shrugged off the furor as an “overblown personnel matter” in a USA Today column. A day later, the inspector general of his department released a report showing a different problem: The Justice Department had abused its power to issue secret national security letters seeking people’s personal information.
It’s a different process, governing. Maybe next time around, maybe in a year or so when American voters are looking at candidates, we can actually pay attention to that fact.