Josh Marshall posted a letter from one of his readers yesterday that makes an excellent point about zombie conservatism. I'm going to re-post it here in its entirety:
What's really at issue here is the extent to which problems with the military, specifically, and the government, generally, are a result of policy. The common explanation for the catastrophic results of many of the Bush administration's initiatives (from Iraq to New Orleans and back again) is that they are the result of "incompetence."
Incompetence, the lack of capacity or skill, is ultimately an exculpating trope. It insinuates that the plan, or effort, was sound and could have succeeded had it been competently carried out. Moreover, the incompetent are in way less liable: their lack of ability lets them off the hook. Thus, "incompetence" insulates the actors from accountability and leaves the policy itself unscathed.
My personal opinion, which has recently been reinforced by much of what I read in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is that the Bush disasters are a result of the administration's policies and not of some failure to effectively carry them out.
No one says, retrospectively, that Calvin Coolidge's failure to help the victims of 1927's Mississippi River flood was a result of incompetence. No one says that Mellon, with his inaction and insistence that the Great Depression would burn itself out through 'liquidation,' was incompetent. Both of these positions were wholly in keeping with the policies of the Coolidge and Hoover presidencies, policies that were not discredited until Roosevelt's victories and the institution of the New Deal.
The problem, a problem that Waxman seems to be keenly aware of, is that as long as the government retains the same kind of policies, the nation will continue to suffer the same hardships. It is not until the beliefs that inform the ways in which the Bush administration runs the government are firmly linked to their consequences that the nation will stop voting for politicians who promulgate, and enact legislation based on, those creeds.
These policies will not (again) be discredited until they are tied to their reprehensible results. Insisting on the 'incompetence' of the Bush administration turns attention away from this linkage between policy and result. In fact, it insulates the policies while discrediting the men who are trying to implement them. It, thus, sets the stage for those policies to be enacted again.
I don't think I ever thought of the word "incompetent" quite that way, even though the term "incompetence dodge" had been widely used to describe certain lame attempts to rationalize support of the Iraq war. But it's bigger than just Iraq, isn't it? Using that term to describe the Bush administration at all allows the "Bush is not a conservative" babblers to set forth the rationale that it was just an inability to carry out (presumably good) conservative policies that has led to such a catastrophic failure, when the truth is that the most efficient people in the world could not have made these policies successful.
This ties in with my post from last night. The problem is not that the Bush's are unusually bad at governance, although they are. It's that the Republicans seem to have created a con game in which they take power, steal the country blind, allow their craziest ideologues to wildly experiment with theories that only radical fringers think have a remote possibility of success and basically run amuck until they are forced to stop. Then they harrass the Democrats as they clean up the mess, setting themselves up for a resurgence by making it very clear that unless they are given another chance to mess things up they will make the political system even more ugly than it already is.
It's the political equivalent of a toddler throwing a tantrum in the grocery store. You get to the point where you give them the candy bar just to shut them up, which is a big part of why Junior Codpiece came close enough to steal the election in 2000 and why the media and political establishment jumped on their bandwagon when they did it. Everyone knew that if the Republicans were not allowed to take power in 2000 there would be hell to pay.
Incompetence has nothing to do with it. In fact, they are quite competent at doing exactly what they want to do --- gain power, do whatever they want for a few years, lose office, harrass Democrats rinse, repeat.