Sunday, September 21, 2014


According to former Washington Post journalist/blogger Ezra Klein, official Washington "is a cesspool of faux-experts who do bad research (or no research), but retain their standing by dint of affiliations, connections, or charisma."

It's been that way for quite some time.

When we began to replace institutional experts with political hacks, objective policy analysis often found itself at the feet of ideologically drenched opinions and political vanity. Let me offer a couple of examples.

It was the 1950s. The cold war was heating up. The Soviet Union had the bomb and the Chinese were now communists. Politicians were looking to score easy political points, and searched for scapegoats. Senator Joe McCarthy stood up on the Senate floor and claimed to have a list of 57 known communists working in the State Department. He was going to tell us "who lost China" to the communists.

And the political witch hunt was on.

The Red Scare under McCarthyism led to epic political grandstanding. It eventually forced seasoned State Department Asian experts out of their positions.

What made the witch hunt so difficult is that we always knew "who lost China." It was Chiang Kai-Shek (the future leader of Taiwan) who lost China. During World War II we were told many times that we couldn't trust Chiang Kai-Shek. At the same time we were informed that Chiang was not capable of matching - let alone challenging - Mao Tse-tung. He simply did not command the same respect and loyalty that Mao did among China's rural peasant class.

Mao Tse-tung (L) and Chiang Kai-Shek, 1945. 

Replacing the experts were political hacks, who knew little about Asia and offered terrible advise on the region in the 1950s. Every political intrigue was wrongly viewed as a Stalin-on-the-horizon moment, and had to be met with a military response. It didn't matter if nationalism or independence were the goals of regional leaders. We saw communists under every rock.

America's blundering war project in Vietnam followed.

In 1995 Congress was led by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party. They didn't want pesky facts getting in the way of their ideology. So our Gingrich-led Congress abolished the non-partisan and very objective Office of Technology Assessment. Congress effectively said, "We don't want to know ... we can find our own experts who will tell us what we want to believe."

America's embrace of political opinion over established scientific fact - which has always helped power our political motor - switched into high gear.

Here's Carl Sagan commenting on this development ...

Hoping to run for president in 2012, Newt Gingrich publicly went after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2011. The problem for Gingrich was that he didn't like how the CBO kept blowing holes in the GOP's ridiculous claims about tax cuts and free market fairy dust.

Indeed, after President Bill Clinton signed tax hikes into law in 1993 Gingrich claimed that economic decline and huge deficits would follow. President Clinton left the White House with record job creation and budget surpluses that, at the time, were projected to bring in $5.2 trillions dollars in budget surpluses by 2010. This was enough to almost pay off our national debt at the time (let that one sink in for a moment).

The point is, as Ezra Klein tells us, the culture of Washington is more concerned with political games and pushing failed ideologies rather than the truth and good public policy. So, yeah, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. This is just one of the reasons why Washington has become a "cesspool of faux-experts who do bad research (or no research)."

Put more simply, Washington is full of policy poseurs who are really ideologues accustomed to winking at each others ignorance.

And ISIS must be dealt with by arming "moderate" Syrian rebels.

Sigh ...

- Mark 

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