Friday, December 12, 2008

When your only competency is gamesmanship

When I did my morning clicking today, I saw that Impolitical put the two hour head start to good use with an excellent post on the political maneuvering by the Conservatives with regards the budget. Beautiful I thought to myself. I might have added a few things.

The first is the insistence of playing political games when the future of their government is on the line. This seems to be all they can do and it explains why they act like an opposition party while in office and their constant campaigning. It reminds me of an article by Ron Susskind on policy development in the Bush II White House* (my highlights in bold):
One senior White House official told me that he’d be summarily fired if it were known we were talking. "But many of us feel it’s our duty—our obligation as Americans—to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It’s just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It’s depressing. Domestic Policy Council meetings are a farce. This leaves shoot-from-the-hip political calculations—mostly from Karl’s shop—to triumph by default. No one balances Karl. Forget it. That was Andy’s cry for help."...

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

In a seven-page letter sent a few weeks after our first conversation, DiIulio, who still considers himself a passionate supporter of the president, offers a detailed account and critique of the time he spent in the Bush White House.

"I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions," he writes. "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 nonstop, twenty-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."

Sound like any government closer to home? Remember the desciptions of Harper as a policy wonk? Some Policy. Some wonk.

This is the HarProrogue's main danger and Ignatieff's main chance. If Harper is seen to be playing politics with the economy, again, he will be mortally wounded. If Ignatieff can't frame Harper in this way he may go down as the last Liberal leader.

The second is that with the coming of the Obama Presidency, Harper and his pals are isolated as a political force on the fringe of global trends. In evolutionary terms, the analogous situation is called being a peripheral isolate (or in less accesible current wording peripatric speciation). Regardless of the jargon, it leads to an amplification of existing defects. I expect we will see some crazy things coming from the PMO as their world caves in.

The third is that the Conservative inner sanctum increasingly reminds me of the old Bob Newhart routine called "The Hold-out Huns" (No youtube available, sorry). Two german soldiers lost in the Black Forest who didn't realize that the war was over for 15 years and had trouble coming to grip with the changes all around them.

*I'll stop comparing Harper to Bush when he stops doing things that are comparable to Bush.Recommend this Post

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