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November 13, 2005


Even the "benefit of the doubters" are gone:

The blunders and alleged misdeeds committed by senior officials in the Bush administration are taking a terrible toll on this presidency and this capital. If you could magically wipe away the problems named Katrina, Harriet Miers, Scooter Libby, etc., this White House would still be in serious trouble with American and global opinion.

The problem is more structural than President Bush or Vice President Cheney acknowledges. Until they do, they swim upstream against a quickening current of suspicion and doubt.


But as time passes without new horror being unleashed in the United States, the initial Sept. 11 reactions of fear and rage become attenuated, and the public becomes less inclined to support the harsh, often borderline methods the administration insists are necessary to fight a war against global terrorism.

In that atmosphere, the administration weakens its own credibility at home and American moral authority abroad by stubbornly refusing to engage in an honest discussion about drawing a line between torture and other interrogation techniques.

You've touched on the strange paradox of BushCo - that they've been remarkably competent, in fact masterful, at manipulating the levers of power, while being stunningly incompetent at governance.

At least part of the reason is that manipulating the levers of power is the only thing they CARE about. Also, perhaps, their manipulation is not so much a matter of skill as sheer chutzpah, reinforced by their indifference to underlying process. It doesn't take brilliance to run a company into the ground, but - as with Enron - it can look brilliant, in a cynical way, right up till the crackup happens.

Even their political skills aren't all they have been cracked up to be. They caught an incredibly lucky break (for power grabbers) in the form of 9/11, but they burned their political capital instead of investing it.

Now the political bills are coming due, and there's no money in the till.

-- Rick

Trust is truly the coin of the realm...

The whole polity has been losing trust for quite a while. In addition to the current Administration's violations of the public trust, as a society we simply are less and less inclined to work together for the common good. Robert Putnam in the book Bowling Alone has collected the data; he wrote this in the 90s, but his description of a society in which trust is broken is prescient. The Roves of the world are using effectively the opportunities this broken trust offers to the unscrupulous. Putting Humpty Dumpty together is going to be hard. Clearly bouncing the liars out is the first step.


I keep thinking back to the "we're an empire, we make our own reality comment" to explain their refusal to govern. I really think they do believe they are orders of magnitude stronger than anyone else, so they don't HAVE to govern. No matter how badly they fuck up, they'll still be stronger. They're wrong, of course, but that's what they think.


Thanks for linking that post. I had the opportunity to work on a conference with Putnam as he was releasing that book and got into some heated discussions with him about it. One thing that has struck me about his data: He will admit that his historical trends don't hold true for African Americans (although African Americans now follow roughly the same trends as the rest of the population). He doesn't say it in the book (he admitted it to me in person)--but the revelation ought to be the first place you look to explaining why we're more atomized and what to do to fix it. What has ALWAYS been true of African Americans in this country, which has only recently begun to change? Well, for one, they've been largely excluded from the vision of themselves as members and beneficiaries of this great project of our nation. Don't know if that's the reason they don't fit the data pattern. But it's something I've put a lot of thought to.

I think one of Putnam's smartest ideas, one he doesn't develop sufficiently, is the conception of social capital appropriate to a mode of organization. He explicitly says the Progressive movement was an attempt to build institutions appropriate for urban living, at a time of increasing urbanization. Now, his data do show in general that the suburbanization of the US contributes to the decline of social capital (although not exclusively in suburbs). But I'm not sure inventing new institutions of social involvement for the suburbs is enough. Partly, that's because people's conceptual world is not bound by geography. Even if you live in the suburb, you may identify with the urban area you work in, for example. Or you may identify with the developing nation where you grew up. To be fair to Putnam, he is definitely working on networked social capital. But it's not clear we've been able to articulate what mode of organizaion we currently live by, one that would encompass people like us who have met on the Internet, but also people who live "networked" lives without ever using a computer.

The damage done to every agency in the Executive Branch is tremendous. They've twisted everything into their "reward our friends, stomp on our enemies" and shoved out the career and non-partisan bureaucrats in an effort to put their stamp on the government. This happened in the State Department, the Treasury, the EPA, FEMA, etc. These cuckoos will be left to poison the government for ordinary Americans even when Rove-Cheney-Bush are gone.

What Rick said. And, I feel compelled to add that the bulk of the polity appears to still be in denial about the seriousness of the storms -- political and otherwise -- which loom just over the horizon. The first step is indeed bouncing the liars out, but the bouncing them out part is going to seem easy once we get to the rebuilding part.

Re suburbs and the "Bowling Alone" that they seem to engender, I suspect that Jim Kunstler is right and that the success of the suburban lifestyle will last only for a few generations, most of which has already passed. That said, I've always assumed that the actual mechanism driving the trend has been the "nuclear family" household. Very prevalent in the 'burbs; not very prevalent in black communities; very inefficient economically; very isolating socially. Especially when architecture and urban planning reinforces it. If you grow up absorbing your core relational cues from an unnaturally small tribe, bowling alone seems perfectly natural.

Does that jibe with Putnam et al?

emptywheel -- thanks enormously for the tip that African Americans don't fit Putnam's data patterns. I'm going to chase after that insight as I am lucky enough to have access through my church to a sociologist who worked with him on some of this. It certainly fits with my instinctive suspicion that loss of social capital (or avoidance of collective activity) corelates with the society's extraordinary wealth and comfort. Empire?

About suburbs: a strictly empirical observation. During the 70s and 80s, I worked as a remodeling contractor. One of the main things we did was add extra bedrooms in the basements of post-World War II suburban houses that began to accomodate immigrant Filopino and Latino families. In the early 70s, Daly City (the proto-typical "little boxes on the hillsides" place) was closing schools; by the end of the decade, it was opening them as multiple families crowded into houses built for "nuclear families."

The trend has continued: inner ring suburbs are not white in California; they are the first stop for anyone crawling into the lower middle class, a group that is heavily immigrant here. Meanwhile the older urban core is getting whiter, simply because land values/housing are so skyhigh. And the exurbs, ever further out, have become the arena of white flight.

That is, these patterns keep changing; the post-WWII pattern is already broken. I don't know what that means for our networks, except more flux.

BTW - I think Putnam is at his best re TV replacing human contact, especially now that we even watch that alone.

I'm afraid I don't have much respect for Putnam. Many of the "trends" he wrote about have reversed in the time since he did his research (some even before his book came out) but he has continued to make a career out of speaking on his conclusions. While a lot of them play into our commonsense conceptions of how TV and suburban "must" be changing how people live, that doesn't make them true, and as I recall, even the title "trend" turned out to be a temporary statistical anomaly.

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