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This site is the inspiration of a former reporter/photographer for one of New England's largest daily newspapers and for various magazines. The intent is to direct readers to interesting political articles, and we urge you to visit the source sites. Any comments may be noted on site or directed to KarisChaf at gmail.

Friday, November 22, 2013

War on What? -- By James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal

It is the left that has supplanted expertise with ideology.
 

A left-liberal magazine's publication of an article titled "The Republican War on Competence" would have seemed unremarkable at just about any point in this columnist's adult lifetime. But this article, by Jeff Shesol for The New Yorker, was published yesterday--with a Democrat in the White House presiding for the 51st day over the most stunning display of governmental incompetence since Prohibition, maybe since Nero. In that context, it's like a dispatch from a different planet.
Shesol's piece begins with a quarter-century-old lament, for Michael Dukakis. In July 1988, when he accepted the Democratic nomination for president, Massachusetts' then-governor somewhat famously declared: "This election isn't about ideology; it's about competence."

Republicans, in Shesol's infelicitous phrase, "made merciless hay" of that statement. George H.W. Bush, in his acceptance speech the following month, said: "Competence is a narrow ideal. Competence makes the trains run on time but doesn't know where they're going." Observes Shesol: "More commonly it is fascists (namely, Mussolini), not technocrats, who are said to make trains run on time, but nonetheless: advantage, Bush. And soon, election, Bush."

Shesol gets this wrong. Far from disparaging competence, Bush actually was laying claim to it. Just before the above-quoted remark, the then-vice president asserted: "Some say this isn't an election about ideology, it's an election about competence. Well, it's nice of them to want to play on our field." Thus he claimed first that he was more competent than Dukakis and second that competence was not enough.

 The line about making "the trains run on time" was obviously a reference to the clich√© about Mussolini, which Shesol seems to imagine is some esoteric historical reference. Bush was suggesting that Dukakis was no mere technocrat but an extreme ideologue (albeit probably not a "fascist," a term without much meaning in the context of late-20th-century American politics). The crucial part of Dukakis's pronouncement was not "it's about competence" but "this election isn't about ideology"--a defensive denial that signaled Dukakis was vulnerable to ideological attack.
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