Saturday, August 30, 2003

Here's something I've suspected for a long time. Republicans are inept:
I could make this into another column about this administration's mendacity; Lord knows there's fodder aplenty. But that point has been made. People are used to hearing liberals talk about how evil the administration is, and those who agree already agree while those who don't probably won't be persuaded.

But there's another argument about this administration, and about the Republican Party in general, that needs to be made, because this argument can alter presumptions about the two parties that have existed for at least a generation and can change the way the parties are seen well into the future. And it is this: The Republicans are total incompetents.

Republicans, at least since the 1980 election, have gotten lots of mileage out of billing themselves as the party of competence. They knew how to deal with the Russkies. They understood a budget. They knew how to crack down on the crooks and hoodlums. They understood the bottom line, and they knew what was right for America. The Democrats, meanwhile, were supposedly more interested in their dainty little social-engineering schemes than in success. Lots of people bought all of this, and of course there was a little bit of truth to it -- then. But the labels stuck hard. Democrats still have to take dramatic steps to prove their competence while Republicans are presumed -- by the mainstream media, anyway -- to possess it until they demonstrate otherwise.

Well, guess what? They've demonstrated otherwise. No one -- no one -- can name a single front on which today's Republicans have shown even the simplest competence. They don't know how to manage an economy. They sure don't know how to balance a budget. They have no idea how to create jobs (though they do have a pretty strong sense of how to make them disappear). Their domestic-security measures have consisted of the usual emphasis on show over substance, first stealing a Democratic idea (the Department of Homeland Security) and then underfunding the result in some crucial respects -- a mistake for which I pray we never pay a price.

They don't understand the Bill of Rights, and their shills in the media obviously don't understand the relationship between the First Amendment and trademark law, as Blah-Blah O'Reilly's laughable lawsuit against the great Al Franken shows. They've done nothing to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, and have, if anything, done damage to those resources. They've done nothing for the minorities Mr. Compassionate Conservative was supposedly courting in 2000, his speeches to the NAACP and the like transcribed by a tremulous media.

And now, it turns out, they don't know how to do the one thing they've spent 50 years convincing Americans that they and only they know how to do: fight a war. The war in Afghanistan is hardly won (did you notice the firefight the other day that left 14 dead?). And the war in Iraq is a fiasco that is fast becoming a huge political problem, worrying middle-of-the-road voters (who have figured out now that maybe alienating the rest of the world wasn't such a great idea after all) and exposing ideological fissures on the right (go read William Kristol and Robert Kagan's editorial in the current Weekly Standard, where they call for more troop strength and take several amusing implicit swipes as Donald Rumsfeld).