December 4, 2008


Undone By Victory: Political Success and the Subversion of Conservative Politics (M. E. Bradford, June 10986, Imprimis)

[T]he most puzzling and pervasive of all the functional shortcomings of the Reagan administration has nothing to do with the timidity of the Office of Presidential Personnel or the unruliness of Senate Republicans. Instead I turn now to a contradiction between potential and result which occurs after capable and loyal people have been appointed and/or confirmed in positions of great importance, to subversion by victory in its most complicated form. Once they are settled in Washington and part of an established government, a terrible transformation in point-of-view and frame-of-reference changes into "something new and strange" otherwise responsible persons. Many of the explanations for this metamorphosis are familiar to most students of contemporary American government—that administrators come to confuse the size, influence, and budget of their department or agency with the interests of the Republic; that they are made defensive by high station and the ponderous machinery of the State; that the kind of prudence which accompanies a sense of achievement lends itself to paralysis and to domination by values accepted as axioms in Washington despite the fact that they are roundly rejected by most of the nation. It is also true that many Reagan appointees sincerely feel that nothing can be done. Inertia often cancels the impact of elections. Yet this calculus only begins to account for the declension which I describe. For most of the Reagan appointees of whom I speak knew full well before they assumed office in Washington that they arrived there as conquerors of an occupied city, a city loyal to defeated and exiled "princes," eager for their restoration and ready at every opportunity to frustrate the "barbarians" now within the walls. They knew, as Reagan supporters, to treat the Capital as a captured place, still infected by an ideological virus planted there more than fifty years ago and nurtured by most of the governments which have controlled it since that time; and they knew the bureaucracy to be made up of their implacable enemies—men and women confident that they are the legitimate government, obliged to absorb and neutralize successive waves of "mere politicians" brought to authority by the accident of election. Even so, for reasons that go deeper than the usual explanations, these realists have often been undone.

The greatest impediment to performance behind the failure of the Reagan regime to change the government delivered into its keeping in a root and branch reformation is that its constituent members have come to think of the status which they enjoy as theirs by nature and not be dint of political labor and popular delegation. Life in Washington, DC causes them to forget why they acquired their offices, and under what conditions. Moreover, while they might wish to pacify their enemies, they have failed to support one another, coveting a respectability offered to them in the environment of the Capital by pretending to be "different from most Republicans" or "most conservatives." The truth is, of course, that such respectability is granted only to those who agree that the Reagan Revolution is no more than a rhetorical device and that only those positions held in common by President Reagan and President Ford can have a place in a responsible Republican government—allowing for small increases, adjustments in fiscal policy, tepid leadership of the Free World in foreign policy and minor tinkering with the War on Poverty. There is a widespread belief among Reagan appointees that only a "soft" style of administration can effect changes which will be accepted because no one notices them until they are in place. According to these worthies, there can be no fundamental assault from the Right on the network of controls by which the State overgoverns almost every detail of our lives. The trouble with this teaching is that it is incongruous as a doctrine for counterrevolution. And the people expected nothing less from elections of 1980 and 1984.

...that the Right didn't consider President Reagan conservative either...until he left office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 4, 2008 11:18 AM
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