Sunday, March 06, 2005

On Bu--sh--

by Tom Bozzo

While others (me, at least) were engaged in weekend trifle-blogging, Oscar has a pair of red meat posts drawing analogies between WorldCom and the Bush administration.

Oscar astutely notes that Bush administration, in concert with Bush supporters more generally, has perfected a peculiar mode of taking credit for anything that can be construed as a policy success while deflecting responsibility otherwise. The combination of opportunism and lack of causal nexus with actual Bush administration policies is a hallmark of bullsh(t as defined by Harry Frankfurt in his famous and recently reprinted essay, On Bullshit.

There may be a case to be made for willful disregard of, as opposed to mere indifference to, the truth on the part of the administration, which would remove their actions from the realm of bullsh1t to that of simple deceit. (As some critiques of Frankfurt apparently go, the two can be observationally equivalent.)

Bullsh#t was certainly the first word that came to mind reading quotes in yesterday's New York Times from one of Bush's Social Security talking sessions:
Under his proposal, Mr. Bush said, income from a private account "goes to supplement the Social Security check that you're going to get

"See, personal accounts is [sic] an add-on to that which the government is going to pay you," [Bush] said. "It doesn't replace the Social Security system."
Lying or bullsh:tting? So, so hard to decide. The Times, to its credit, immediately points out that the private accounts will offset traditional Social Security, though it takes the he-said/she-said approach to transition costs, and doesn't add the additional likely detail that the offset will be against a smaller check than current law would provide. Defending against the last critique sometimes takes the form of "Plan? What plan?" While technically true, that retort is nevertheless total bullsh%t as long as Bush is hopping from one talking session to another as if there were a Plan.

Ultimately, it's my belief in the existence of the "West Wing Syndrome" that makes me lean towards bullsh^tting as the issue, to resolve Josh Marshall's lede, "I'm not even sure 'lying' quite does it [Bush's privatization rhetoric] justice." One thing about ideology-driven policy is that it simply doesn't matter if it's effective or successful. Ideology, like Frankfurt's bullsh!t, is indifferent to the truth. Subject to a suitable belief system, you can justify anything as long as it's not necessary to eventually confront the real world.

And that is the administration's true genius: enacting, or trying to enact, a substantially pre-established agenda (tax cuts, missile defense, Iraq, Social Security privatization) with reality serving as that thing for which the righty policy establishment will retroactively contort itself so as to underscore the old saw, Piled Higher and Deeper.
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