2) The "Deep State," Cont. Two days ago I quoted Mike Lofgren and Mark Bernstein on structural paradoxes of our current politics. In response to Lofgren's description of the military-police-financial-technological "Deep State," here is Joseph Britt of Wisconsin, who like Lofgren previously worked as an aide to a Republican U.S. senator:
First: with respect to how the federal government functions, the level of continuity over the last dozen years or so doesn't get nearly enough attention. In the Bush as in the Obama administration, Executive Branch agencies had little policy autonomy -- except for the security services, DoD and the intelligence agencies, who operated with little oversight even from within the administration in spite of major policy failures.
Republicans in Congress didn't defend the Bush administration so much as they repeated verbatim what they were told to say on national security affairs. Meanwhile, other federal agencies dealt with a White House hypersensitive about political message discipline by undertaking as few potentially controversial initiatives as possible -- something that hasn't changed all that much under Barack Obama.
Second: the absolute primacy of the permanent campaign industry in the policy making process gets rather taken for granted by many commentators. Organized interest groups have traditionally been thought to exercise outsized influence within the two national parties, especially the Democratic Party. One thing that's changed in recent years is the emergence of the people who do campaigns for a living as a powerful and effectively organized interest group themselves.
It is the pollsters, "strategists," and other campaign operatives, after all, who are the chief beneficiaries of the continual fundraising that Senators and Congressmen now do. Not only do these electioneering hands now work on campaign business full-time, but they have also gotten used to a standard of living requiring high and predictable levels of income.
The influence of campaign primacy on policy flows outward from Capitol Hill and the White House, enveloping agencies engaged in work that might offend any monied interest. The military and intelligence agencies tend not to do work of this kind; their budgets, increased substantially after 9/11, tend therefore to receive little scrutiny, and their senior officials are normally treated with deference.
Is campaign primacy worse than it has ever been? I'd say it is. The very transparency celebrated by some in the media (because, among other things, it takes some of the hard work out of political reporting) makes it harder to do politically controversial business out of the view of rent-seeking monied interests. Advocacy of causes with no potential to support the permanent campaign infrastructure -- from reducing unemployment to preparing for climate change to adhering to regular order on appropriations bills in Congress -- is effectively deterred. The influence of campaign primacy on tax policy can't be overestimated.
The root cause of the latest crisis in Washington is that, for the party that came up short in the last election, the campaign never ended. There is nothing but the campaign for Congressional Republicans -- and mostly for Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as well, with the difference that they feel they have to at least look as if they want the government to function.
3) "Emails from a Dead Man." This is not exactly about political structure, but it's powerful enough, and closely enough connected to our public values, that I want to mention it. Last month This American Life did an episode on the Iraqis who had helped U.S. troops or officials over the past decade -- and who now, of course, are in mortal danger precisely because of their "collaboration" with us. The ugly record of leaving people stranded has become a too-frequent feature of U.S. military ventures from Vietnam onward -- and the likelihood of this happening is of course one more reason to be cautious about such commitments. After its program, T.A.L. put up a selection of emails from one such stranded Iraqi. Read it and reflect that this is being done in our name.