For GOP, Incompetence Is a Feature (Not a Flaw)

Mike Lofgren

 

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in BillMoyers.com. Read the rest here.

 

It has been said that Newt Gingrich is “a dumb person’s idea of a smart person.” Who coined that phrase is a matter of scholarly dispute, but there is broad agreement that the sentiment is applicable. I will go further and say this characteristic of Newt’s is not just a personal foible; it establishes a model for Republican politicians and operatives since his time in Congress.

 

Having had the opportunity as a former congressional staffer to experience his speakership up close, it was clear to me that Gingrich had a ready opinion on every subject from aardvarks to Zoroastrianism. He was usually wrong. But through a combination of confident and aggressive assertion, citation of “facts” and “statistics” that, while specious and cherry-picked, the listener was not in any position to immediately refute, and the glibness that masquerades as eloquence, he dominated his colleagues and set the House of Representatives on its path to becoming the extremely unfunny joke it is today.

 

Consistent with his pose as a public intellectual, Gingrich schmoozed with Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock. Yet one of his first acts on assuming the speakership was to abolish the Office of Technology Assessment, an agency solely responsible to Congress and which gave an appraisal of new technologies independent of executive branch puffery.

 

He also slashed the budgets of the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), impairing Congress’ ability to receive disinterested evaluation of a vast range of subjects. Who needs CBO (now a favorite whipping boy of congressional Republicans) when you know that tax cuts increase revenue?

 

What began with Gingrich has culminated in the nightmare of the Trump presidency, where wildly incompetent pseudo-experts run riot through the government and endanger the well-being of the general public. America has become a laboratory to test whether its institutions can weather the present flood of Republican expertise.

 

Republicans: Assuring National Insecurity

 

The national security functions of government have long been a subject of mystification: The public and the press have a tendency to regard its practitioners as a kind of priesthood possessing an arcane and special knowledge. But long before Trump, the GOP treated it as a political reward for crackpot ideologues whose credentials were thin or nil.

 

Bill Kristol, whose only qualification for anything was being the offspring of Irving Kristol, somehow blossomed in the late 1990s as a Republican national security expert. His current claim to fame is being wrong about everything; that has not prevented him from making a comfortable living via the “wingnut welfare” provided by right-wing media.

 

Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense under George W. Bush, caused my jaw to drop in February 2003, when he informed the House Budget Committee on which I served that the invasion of Iraq would probably result in fewer US casualties than the near-negligible number the military suffered in the Balkan intervention, and also that the invasion would pay for itself through Iraq’s oil revenues.

 

While his testimony immediately aroused concern if not derision in the country, most Republican committee members seemed to eat it up as the wisdom of a latter-day Clausewitz. On leaving the Pentagon, Wolfowitz’s gold watch for confecting such prophecies was the presidency of the World Bank.

 

The Republican so-called experts’ pronouncements weren’t exactly unplanned. In early 2001, just before George W. Bush’s inauguration, the Heritage Foundation produced a policy document intended to help the incoming administration choose personnel. The authors stated the following:

 

. . . the Office of Presidential Personnel must make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second, and the whole governmental apparatus must be managed from this perspective.

 

 

 

A decade and a half later, Trump’s operatives must have been impressed by one of the document’s authors, George Nesterczuk; he was nominated to become director of the Office of Personnel Management, but later withdrew his nomination, complaining about “partisan attacks” (possibly a euphemism for “careful scrutiny”).

 

Trump has built on Bush’s national security legacy. His first deputy national security adviser was K.T. McFarland. While she held national security positions in previous administrations, what probably commended her to Trump’s handlers was her stint as a national security “expert” on Fox News, a sinecure and career booster for the right-wing nomenklatura. From that perch, she recommended that Vladimir Putin be granted the Nobel Peace Prize. Foreign policy writer Jim Lobe describes her expertise here.

 

It also must have helped that she ran for the Senate in New York in 2006. Although she was heavily defeated in the GOP primary, she claimed that the campaign of the incumbent Democrat, Hillary Clinton, was spying on her through her bedroom window and flying helicopters over her house in the Hamptons. When called out on it, after denying she was serious, she later told a New York Post gossip columnist that news of her “helicopters” remark had unhinged her: “I sat in a ratty old robe, tears spilling down my face. To ease my anguish, I killed off half a pint of ice cream. Next morning, I was in the fetal position. Still crying.” To GOP talent scouts these days, anyone who spreads conspiracy theories about Clinton is bound to appear highly qualified.

 

Another early pick for the Trump national security team was Sebastian Gorka, named deputy assistant to the president for terrorism issues. Although this pompous little martinet insists on being called “Dr.,” his Hungarian Ph.D. sounds suspiciously like the product of a diploma mill. His reputation since then has been “widely disdained within his own field.”

 

His professional seriousness may be inferred by his proposal to keep Muslims out of Hungary by affixing pigs’ heads to the country’s border fences, and by showing up at Trump’s inaugural ball costumed and bemedalled like the Balkan despot in a Marx Brothers movie.

 

His garment and insignia pin were seen as a reference to Vitézi Rend, a Hungarian organization that is a legacy of Hungary’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, causing some Senate Democrats to publicly wonder why Gorka’s membership in the group (a charge Gorka has strongly denied) did not make him excludable from the country. It may also account for his never receiving a security clearance high enough to be appropriate to his sensitive White House position.

 

Gen. Kelly: New Broom or Partisan Hack?

 

McFarland and Gorka are now gone from the White House. Is this a sign that a new seriousness is prevailing at the White House? Although McFarland landed on her feet (Trump nominated her to be ambassador to Singapore), Gorka’s departure from government was widely attributed to the arrival of Gen. John Kelly as White House chief of staff (predictably, Fox News is now providing Gorka with wingnut welfare).

 

But as we have seen in the distasteful episode involving Kelly’s public feud with a Florida congresswoman over Trump’s perfunctory condolence call to the widow of a fallen soldier, the usual press and public tendency to genuflect to a high-ranking military officer could be misplaced in his case. At the same White House press briefing in which he insulted the congresswoman, his reputation was further tarnished by his refusal to call on reporters who didn’t have a connection to Gold Star military families, thus suggesting that military members are of a higher social caste, as in Wilhelmine Germany.

 

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in BillMoyers.com. Read the rest here.

 

Author Bio:

 

Mike Lofgren is a former career congressional staff member who served on the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book is The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government. He appeared several times as a guest on Moyers & Company. Learn more on his website: mikelofgren.net.

Popular: 
not popular
Photographer: 
Google Images; Wikipedia Commons
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><div><img><h2><h3><h4><span>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.