The Eternal Return of Robert McNamara Mentality


George Will comments on the Best and Brightestest's earthly demise:

The death of Robert McNamara at 93 was less a faint reverberation of a receding era than a reminder that mentalities are the defining attributes of eras, and certain American mentalities recur with, it sometimes seems, metronomic regularity. McNamara came to Washington from a robust Detroit—he headed Ford when America's swaggering automobile manufacturers enjoyed 90 percent market share—to be President John Kennedy's secretary of defense. Seemingly confident that managing the competition of nations could be as orderly as managing competition among the three members of Detroit's oligopoly, McNamara entered government seven months before the birth of the current president, who is the owner and, he is serenely sure, fixer of General Motors.

Today, something unsettlingly similar to McNamara's eerie assuredness pervades the Washington in which he died. The spirit is: Have confidence, everybody, because we have, or soon will have, everything—really everything—under control.

But lest you think this is a mere slap at Obama, Will turns his sights on neoconservatives:

The world McNamara has departed could soon be convulsed by attempts to modify Iran's behavior. Since a variety of incentives have been unavailing, more muscular measures—perhaps "surgical strikes," a phrase redolent of the McNamara mentality—are contemplated.

Some persons fault the president for not having more ambitious plans to prompt and guide Iranians toward regime change. That outcome is sometimes advocated, and its consequences confidently anticipated, by neoconservatives whose certitude about feasibility resembles that which, decades ago, neoconservatism was born to counter.

On a perhaps related note, Will's New York Times counterpart and National Greatness Conservatism co-confectioner David Brooks wrote a bizarre column yesterday that starts with a lament for the unrepeatable greatness of George Washington, continues with the inaccurate claim that Joe DiMaggio and Tom Hanks are "naturally dignified" (tell it to Dimaggio's two abused wives and neglected son, or to Bosom Buddies fans everywhere), then fingers the culprit for our National De-Dignification ("First, there is capitalism."), takes deserved slaps at Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin, and concludes on this hopeful note about President Barack Obama:  

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity.

I can actually agree with that, to a point (the point that ends with Obama serially BSing us). But sadly, those "policy differences" are just not trivial. People who value personality over policy in their politicians are doomed to post-facto disappointment, usually uttered long after it could have made any difference.