We received such a


We received such a well-considered email last night from TPM Reader MA that I’m going to post the whole thing:

Your post . . . about the slowdown in cases in San Francisco got me thinking about the larger bureaucratic issue associated with more than half a dozen years under Bush.

This is a relatively trivial incident, but a while back I attempted to get my passport renewed and discovered the wait times had doubled (partly because of the new rule requiring travelers to Canada to have passports) — trivial, yes, but it also highlights some of the more mundane effects of an administration run by people who have a fundamental antipathy toward government service and government programs.

This gets writ large in the case of incidents like Hurricane Katrina, the prosecution of the Iraq war and so on…but it also gets writ small in thousands of details of everyday bureaucratic life — especially as the Bush influence trickles down through the bureaucracy from political appointees to career employees.

If the governing Bush/Cheney philosophy is that the public sector doesn’t work, that it is inherently not just inefficient and corrupt, but antagonistic to citizens and individuals, this philosophy has a way of slithering its way into the workings of the system itself — not just in the case of high profile corruption scandals, but also, again on a more mundane level, in the day-to-day operation of government bureaucracies.

And here’s the weird thing, even though that sounds so unexciting, there’s something almost stifling about imagining a bureaucracy that really is antagonistic to individuals — one that not only slows down, but finds some vindication in throwing up road blocks, thwarting citizen requests, and, in the end, not serving the public. I have family members who lived in former communist countries — and that’s really how the bureaucracy was there, and life under those circumstances was made much more difficult, bureaucratic responsibilities increasingly cumbersome, much of the time the system just didn’t work, and had to be gamed (or bribed).

Although I have large scale concerns about Bush’s handling of the war, the economy, and so on, I also have some more micro scale concerns about what his philosophy of governance means for everyday life and our everyday interactions with the bureaucracy. Indeed, this scale, though more mundane, is also the one that in some ways affects the majority of the population more directly, even if much less dramatically. I’ve lived in places where the bureaucracy functions quite well, and where citizens take a certain pride in the fact that the government serves them.

The idea of living in a country where the administration’s goal is to demonstrate just how bad government is/can be scares me at this very prosaic level — I want my schools and courts and inspection agencies and passport agencies and so on to be run by people who really believe in government service and in the fact that the government can work effectively to serve the populace. Bush seems to be doing everything he can to dismantle such a world — and he risks fueling a vicious circle in so doing.


David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.