Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Trouble With Competence

Just another one of those posts where I want to, shall we say, formalize something I've been saying in the Eschaton comments.

The catastrophe in Louisiana and Mississippi has served to shine a glaring spotlight on the rot of incompetence at the Bush administration's core. It is painfully clear that "Brownie" was woefully unqualified to run FEMA, and attained the position solely because he is a Friend Of Bush, as did his predecessor and his immediate subordinates. This is typically attributed to corruption and unseriousness about the important business of governing, but I don't think that tells quite the entire story of why competence is like kryptonite for the Bush administration.

To put it simply, competence gets in the way of loyalty. (Or at least, loyalty in its most cramped and narrow yes-man sense) Competence requires at least a passing familiarity with reality, which is sometimes not what the boss wants it to be. If the boss cannot accept anything that does not fit in with his worldview, then the competent employee will inevitably come into conflict with the boss's agenda. And the farther from reality the boss is, the more frequent such conflicts will be. So if the boss's priority is to employ people who won't rock the boat or tell him anything he doesn't want to hear, then he will naturally turn to those who have always agreed with him in the past, who make him feel comfortable.

Now, of course, a real leader does not fear competence - a real leader welcomes competence and alternative viewpoints to his own, and uses them to make himself stronger. But, needless to say, President Bush is not a real leader, and surrounding himself with people who tell him he is only makes him less of one.

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