Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush’s “failures” and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush’s disasters—Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit—are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.
…The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.
Obviously, he has a point (though small-government conservatives might disagree that their “philosophy” has been greatly advanced under GWB). What it ignores, though, is that these guys manifestly don’t know what they’re doing half the time (hence their abysmal approval numbers; surely those aren’t part of the master plan). Seems a shame to ditch the incompetence frame entirely—especially if you can stretch it to cover the Republican Congress. And maybe the dichotomy’s a bit overblown. Why not split the difference and say—to paraphrase Alan Wolfe’s argument in this month’s Washington Monthly—that the conservative governing philosophy is a philosophy…of incompetent governance?