Friday, January 07, 2005

dishonest government

Dishonest government can't be good, but apparently once you know how things work, it becomes a little hard to see why, beyond kindergarten-level morality. It never seemed that hard to me. An informed populace is the foundation of democracy, and officials who lie to the public show a corrosive contempt for democracy itself. Being more of an insider, Matt digs deeper and finds a more serious problem: that officials who've lost credibility will have a harder time acting in the future, when action might be critically necessary.

This is an odd argument in any number of ways.

The Bush administration had demonstrated its belief that policy was more important than truth long before Iraq, indeed long before Bush took office. When the administration laid out its case for Iraq, many people (including myself) concluded it was deceptive. Generally speaking, such judgments were written off precisely because they were informed by judgments of Bush and his people, because they were based partly on a well-founded distrust of the administration, a distrust the administration had already earned. Is there any reason to believe the next time will be any different? One can argue whether 51% is a mandate, but one cannot deny that support for Bush is greater now than it was four years ago or that his institutional base is stronger now than it was two years ago.

In any case, if dishonesty were to curb the ability of dishonest leaders to act, wouldn't that be a good thing? Isn't dishonest
leadership itself so grave that it could only be trumped by the most profound external crisis, and wouldn't such a crisis generate its own political base? The public reaction after 9/11 certainly suggests that it would. The frightening thing today isn't that the prevarications of the Bush administration have weakened its support, but that they have not. If Bush is limited today, it's due to an overextended military, not a weakened political base.

It's not hard to understand why dishonest leadership is bad for the nation. It is hard to understand why insiders struggle to explain it. It is hard to understand why those who watch officials lie every day remain easy to deceive, why they struggle to find realpolitik reasons to explain why such dishonesty is, in fact, bad, and why they characterize the obvious answer--that dishonesty leadership corrupts our society--as kindergarten-level morality.

I know I'm being harsh on Matt. He has chronicled many of the known deceptions. He knows they're important. It bothers me, however, that he sees a possible weakening of Bush as the most compelling basis for criticizing his past actions.

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