George Bush's Lethal Hostility to Big Government


Paul Krugman offers the least plausible explanation I've seen so far for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina:

The federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?

As Julian pointed out the other day, one can favor small government and still support vigorous action in those areas where the government has a legitimate role to play, as in maintaining law and order after a natural disaster. Indeed, the endless expansion of government arguably distracts it from such vital duties, making it less likely to perform them properly. In any case, there is scant evidence that George W. Bush, who disdains the "leave us alone" wing of the conservative movement and thinks the federal government has a duty to pay for every grandmother's prescription and tutor every student in danger of being left behind, harbors any "ideological hostility" to big government. Since taking office he has been busy aggrandizing the public sector, not denigrating it. As Jonathan Rauch notes in his discussion of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), another prominent Republican who shares Bush's distaste for "libertarianish" conservatives, "the right" that Krugman has in mind, driven by the anti-statist instincts of Barry Goldwater, is not exactly ascendant in Washington these days.

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  1. If I were Krugman, I would support my view by pointing out the many bills Bush has vetoed. You see, there was the...well, there's...of course I can always point out...well, maybe I should research this a little more.

  2. Sage-

    Why should he? If you been grandizing the Reagan mantra that goverment is not the solution, its the problem, then you just fullfilled your own prophecy in regards to the Katrina relief effort. I think that was what Krugman was reaching for.

  3. This argument only holds wat-

    Scratch that.

    This argument is only plausible if you ignore the distinction between using government authority and resources to serve the public good, and using it to reward your friends and buy new ones. The disgusting prescription drug bill you love to trot out, with its ban on negotiating prices, does a lot more of the latter than the former.

  4. sage, you beat me to it.

    Zero vetoes, plus every spending bill that comes through the pipe has more pork in it than was estimated to shore up the NO levee system. $20+ billion guaranteed, every one of them.

    Those small government Republicans.

  5. "The federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good."

    Too bad that ideological hostility to the very idea of using the government to serve the public good didn't translate into an aversion to occupying another country and remaking its society, political system and culture.

  6. Krugman's comments remind me of one of my old Mass Comm professors. On the first day of my "Editorial And Opinion Writing" class he went around the room to have us explain our various ideological beliefs. I told him that was a libertarian. "So, your one of those right-wingers," he sneered. I tried to explain that I wasn't a "right winger" because I was for abortion rights, gay liberation, drug legalization, free speech, etc. "Bullshit!" he scoffed. "If you're for capitalism, you're a right-winger."

    Just like my professor, Krugman can't see beyond his own ideological blinders. Even while the GOP has shown its true statist colors he can only view it, and even those loosely associated with it, in the way his politics tells him. It doesn't matter if you're for Bush, or against him, if you start jibber-jabbering about "limited government" you're obviously a Republican no ifs, ands, or buts.

  7. Krugman's just parroting other recent lib commentary on this one. They've begun to blame any number of bad things on Bush's hostility to big gov't, trying to see if it keeps negative attention on Bush and gets the discussion back to things the "gov't can do for you".

    Still, those are hostile words, even for Krugman. The guy's losing it.

  8. dowd was kicking a similar thing.

  9. Whoops, didn't finish my thought:

    Of course, that wouldn't matter to Krugman. However, the attempt to pin this disaster to those who advocate smaller government is hardly fair, espeically without any imperical evidence. What is his proof?

  10. Whoops, that should be "emperical."

  11. empirical. 😉

  12. Sigh... Now we see why I didn't make it as a reporter. 🙁

  13. Perhaps the gubimint should pay for some more medication for Mr. Krugman. He obviously needs it.

  14. I also enjoyed Radley Balko's bitch-slapping of Krugman.

  15. Neither the left nor right seem capable of understanding this seemingly self-evident bit of reasoning.

  16. Krugman is just as bad as the 'conservatives' who used the dead of 9/11 to rally support to _their_ pet govt activities and power grabs. How many people could the state and city have gotten out of NO if they had properly used city and school buses (which aren't federal assets) instead of leaving them (the buses, that is) to be flooded. But since those are Dems (and thus not 'hostile' to govt), they get a pass, to suit Krugman's goals.

    Not to defend Bush, who is a liar and an idiot.

  17. Joe has the relevent point. If you think "George W. Bush ...thinks the federal government has a duty to pay for every grandmother's prescription" instead of thinking that the Medicare Prescription Drug plan was a political necessity, and that if it had to pass, better load it up with give aways to supporters, I think you have a naive view of George W. Bush.

  18. Remember when he was just a brilliant economist?


  19. I think W was reading My Pet Goat, again.

  20. Remember when he was just a brilliant economist?

    Was this before or after shilling for Enron?

  21. You know, I don't much care about Dubya's motivations. If he advocated for, and signed, the Medicare drug bill, then I'll assume he wants the government to buy every old person's prescription drugs.

    Joe, you don't get to say, "George Bush doesn't really love big government, because he's not spending the money in ways I like." Well, you can say it, but we don't have to take you seriously.

  22. ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good

    There are more than a few on the right -- the religous right -- who embrace the idea of using government to serve the public good. They differ from Krugman on the definition of "public good", so that obviously doesn't count. Actually, they agree on many ends, such as "protecting the children". The means, however, are distinctly different. The right thinks forcing school kids to pray to Jebus is a public good. The left thinks every school kid needs a trauma councilor for stubbed toes is a public good. Both sides can kiss my hairy ass. Which would be a very satisfying private good.

    Public good is in the eye of the beholder. My guy supports the public good. Your guy is evil and wants to kill or enslave everyone.

  23. Krugman was brilliant at taking other economists forgotten ideas and putting them into mathematics. He was also a big proponent of trade liberalization, although I'm not sure if that's true anymore.

  24. What you have in the Bush administration is utterly unprincipled crony capitalism and kickbacks.

    So the left points out "the Bush administration doesn't believe in using the government to serve the public good". And they are correct.

    And the libertarians point out "the Bush administraton doesn't have any principled commitment to small government whatsoever, why the government keeps growing and growing". And they are correct too.

  25. The ineptitude here was part cronyism (putting a Arabian horse league official in charge of FEMA) and part downsizing (Bush removed FEMA from cabinet level when he folded it into HS).

    Bush made virtually all his wealth due to government connections and influence, he hardly has contempt for its power.

  26. 25 years ago the New Orleans Audubon Zoo was crappy. It was run by the City of New Orleans.

    The Friends of the Zoo (now the Audubon Nature Institute) was a privately funded group that saved the zoo and turned it into one of the top zoos in the country. The zoo's operations are now privately funded.

    Guess how many animals died during the hurricane? Two. Two river otters. One alligator is missing.

    How did this privately funded zoo -- an apparent victim of an "ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good" manage to be so successful while the rest of New Orleans was looted, starved, and burned? They had been working for years at developing a plan to mitigate the damage from a major hurricane. They had generators onsite to keep climate control systems operating and a two week supply of food frozen. They kept emergency water supplies to keep the animals watered.

    If only the people of New Orleans were as lucky as the animals.

  27. The Republican Party is entering its "Four Legs good; Two Legs better" phase. Under Regan, "Government is the problem, not the solution." Under Bush, "Government was the problem? when it was run by them Liberals. Now that it's in our hands, it's part of the solution."

  28. Krugman analyzed in light of Rauch's discussion of Santorum. What the hell does that have to do with anything important right now?

    Sure y'all have axes to grind, and anger or helplessness or sympathy to work out, but, Jeezus, can you be bigger dorks?

    There's enough blame to go around. I hope that between farting in your blog bags y'all still keep focused on the moment, when people don't give a crap about Rauch, Krugman or anybody who doesn't tell them exactly when they can get back to their houses.

    Ammonium: If people don't matter, what about the penguins, and the fish at the aquarium? Has anyone here been to the freakin' zoo, or are y'all just picking stuff off blogs to make a point? Were you on top of monkey hill beating your chest as the humans died? Government sucks, but the people who staff it still care about whatever they're in charge of.

    (I apologize if you're good people. Ammonium. I can't keep all the kvetchers straight.)

  29. Slow Response? I understand eveybody has to beat on Bush. But how could any of all y'all supermen have done much more any faster?

    The disaster was declared in advance. The flood became real on Tuesday, when the storm was still over the prepositioned supplies. 48 hours later, the Feds moved tens of thousands of people out of town. In your imagination, maybe there's a magic switch that makes everything instantly right. Absent that imaginary switch, what was slow about the response?

    Maybe Ray didn't make the evacuation mandatory enough, or Blanco didn't ask for all the troops in the universe Saturday afternoon? Where were y'all at the time? Clearly not helping anybody. It is so much easier to complain about somebody else's job.

  30. Krugman makes the mistake to equate small government with bad and weak government and big government with a powerfull and vigourous public sector. New Orleans however shows that this is wrong. Why anyone, especially an economist, should think that a government that tries to do as much as possible is a strong government is beyond me. Shouldn?t the government, like every individual or institution, specialize itself in those things it is good at (or least bad)? This sounds indeed like the theory of comparative advantage. I?m frankly amazed that Krugman shows so little understanding of that principle. Maybe ideology here trumps his judgment as an economist?

  31. It seems to me that some people will benefit from the fact that so many poor families and their structures were washed away from this prime site.

    Who will benefit?

    Re Whoever-will-benefit: what kind of policies inputs have these people had over the years (eg, when levee funds are being dished out, when it is being decided when to call the Guard, etc)?

  32. Katrina was a horrible event with horrific results! There were many shortcomings in the response as we know all too well...and will certainly learn much more about in the weeks, months and years to come. And the more I hear about "the blame game" the more I agree with the chain of command/responsibility going something like this, (1) the local government and media (prime manner of communicating with the masses), (2) then the state government, (3) then FEMA & Homeland Security and ultimately, and finally (4) the Federal Government, the President. My point isn't to dispute any of these groups, rather it is to bring up what I think was the real problem here - from a lighter point of view, the main cause of the slow response was due to ACCENT confusion...simply, none of us could understand the Louisiana Folk!!

    But on a serious side...we only realise they didn't have anything covered/planned when their 'fantastic' Mayor - spoke, SHOUTED a bunch of French at President Bush and the rest of us!

    I want to know: where was the local leadership?!

    ...but before we get into all of that, the quagmire, with the complainers and responsibility shifters, lets finish the job of saving lives and delivering good/money towards saving people!!

    Just a thought...


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