Synecdoche, redux

For a while, I had this plan to follow up on my synecdoche post from a few days ago with a post about the revelation that the Bush administration actually knew that Iran stopped its nuclear program in 2003, and had known that for months, while still ratcheting up the rhetoric. I was going to make the point that the criticism of Bush in that regard is, again, synecdoche. The problem isn’t that Bush is a warmonger who will do whatever he must to invade Middle Eastern nations, the problem is that the administration he represents is a pack of mendacious warmongers who would rather send our children off to die than admit the slightest error.

But then Joe Biden inadvertently offered a different hypothesis:

If that?s true [that the President was unaware of the NIE saying that Iran had stopped its nuclear program], he has the most incompetent staff in ? modern American history and he?s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.

While Biden thinks “that?s not believable,” I’m kinda rethinking things. Michael Deutsch was a college dropout appointed NASA, and used his position to rewrite reports by NASA scientists. Lizzette Reynolds, then-Governor Bush’s legislative aide and a staffer in his federal Department of Education thinks that the Texas Education Agency should be neutral about whether nonscientific ideas like creationism should be presented in science classes. George Tenet used to run the CIA, and he thought it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program. Condoleeza Rice inspired a brand new verb in Hebrew. Lecondel means to run around having lots of meetings without accomplishing anything. George W. Bush looked into Vladimir Putin’s soul and saw something other than the reincarnation of Stalin. Can we call any of these folks competent?

It’s disturbingly plausible that this administration (or at least the political appointees), from the President on down, is grossly incompetent. It also gives us a reason why this challenge is unanswered, nearly 5 years later:

give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
2. It was significant enough in scale that I’d have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
3. It wasn’t in some important way completely fucked up during the execution.

Disappointing, isn’t it?


  1. #1 chezjake
    December 6, 2007

    While I fully agree that Bush is grossly incompetent and that many of his appointees may well be too, I think you also need to take into consideration the extreme influence on him by Cheney and the neocons.

    I think that history will show that one of the overarching strategies of the neocons has been to create various rationales (ie, new wars, new security threats) for perpetually pumping up the defense, intelligence, and security budgets. This serves both to enrich themselves and their supporters, but also provides their justification for the long-term plan of reducing federal expenditure, regulation and influence on domestic affairs and the economy.

  2. #2 HP
    December 6, 2007

    I don’t know why Biden would find it unbelievable. From a purely objective standpoint, modern presidents must necessarily vary in competence, so one of them has to be the least competent.

    I would think that Pierce, Polk, and Buchanan would be considered early presidents, and Hayes is what, middle-period? Even if we extend the modern period back as far as Taft (hello, Philippines!), who are the other candidates for “most incompetent”? Hoover? Carter? Not even in the same ballpark.

    It’s not so much that Bush is the least competent modern president, but that he is less competent than his nearest competitor by such a wide margin.

  3. #3 not completely useless
    December 7, 2007

    “… give me one single example …”:

    Transforming the Supreme Court into a strong conservative force.

    I don’t think you can count the Harriet Miers fiasco as having completely fucked it up.

  4. #4 eric swan
    December 8, 2007

    The Bushies are not incompetent, they are anticompetent, but they like you too think that they are merely incompetent.

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