Monday, March 23, 2020

Competence Matters

It's been over a year since I've written anything on this blog. Why this is so is a matter for another time. And I don't know how often I will continue writing, if at all.

I'm returning to writing today to state the obvious, in the hopes that if enough of us say this it will have some impact. I hope lots of other people will say it too. It's not an original thought to me - I'm just one voice in the chorus.

The lesson we are facing, as we all go into lockdown to try to slow the spread of a pandemic that may overwhelm our hospitals and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions around the world, is simple: when it comes to government, competence matters.

In the American context, competence matters more than party. It matters more than whether we identify with the Red tribe or the Blue tribe. It matters more than any of the hundred "hot-button" issues we like to argue so passionately about. All of those issues, and all of those divides, will still be there tomorrow.

In short, everything we have been focused on in our politics for the last several years is irrelevant. And if we keep conducting our politics on that basis, they too will become irrelevant.

This is important, because one faction within one political party - the Republican Party - has been trying to argue that competence doesn't matter. This is not a partisan dig, nor a new discovery. It's simply an observation. Some Republicans, from Newt Gingrich (at times) to Grover Norquist to a host of others, have been selling their supporters on the notion that Government is Always Bad. That the best thing to do with government is to shrink it down small enough to be drowned in a bathtub (to borrow Norquist's colorful phrase).

We now see the consequences of that view. Beyond their wildest hopes and dreams, this view has helped elect an administration, and create a host of believers, who eschew science, who replace expertise and knowledge with loyalty, and who view facts as either weapons or conspiracies of the enemy.

Because of that, this pandemic will be worse in the United States than it needed to be. Because of that, thousands of people will die who didn't need to die.

Governments exist in large part as insurance against exactly this kind of event. Pandemics are natural disasters on the grandest scale. They demand a collective response. Collective action requires a coordination point and enforcement. Only effective government can provide effective collective action.

This will not be the last pandemic. There will be more, just as there will be other events that demand a collective response.

Later this year we will hold elections. There are people in both parties who believe in competence. New York's Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is one. Ohio's Mike DeWine, a Republican, is another. Find these people and elect them. Elect more like them. Vote out anyone who has shown indifference, even hostility, to competence - to facts and science and what is real.

Lives are depending on it.

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