Government and Failure
July 12, 2012
Here is a question that should be addressed in every American government textbook ever written: Why does our government and its personnel fail – often? [A supplementary question: How does it fail?]
This question was spurred on by my reading a biography of Donald Rumsfeld, entitled By His Own Rules, which I bought on Amazon for the huge sum of $0.01 plus shipping. It is an OK book but one too concerned with presenting a “balanced” view of Rumsfeld as a government official and as a human being. But it got to me thinking: Here you have this man who is reputed to be and even proves himself to be intelligent, competent, ambitious, and characterized by integrity and, yet, he fails. In this regard, Rumsfeld reminds me of Robert Strange McNamara, who of course failed at the same job as Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense. And, by the way, another man of some competence also failed in that job, a man who ultimately committed suicide while occupying that position, Forrestal.
But does our government fail often? It seems to me a good argument can be made that it does. Consider, in terms of domestic policy: Poverty, drugs, crime, violence, health care, and economic constancy. Consider further, in terms of foreign policy: China, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, not to mention 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. These all seem to be examples of areas, both domestic and foreign, where “success” has been elusive, to say the least. [This is not to say that our government and its officials have not had successes. Of course they have. But having successes does not mean that failure or failures are uncommon. And it is my thought that we can learn more or some things by looking at our failures along with or in distinction from our successes.]
I am not looking at this from a malicious viewpoint but rather from an analytical one. I am not looking to “bash” the U.S. but rather to understand why our government and those who occupy important positions in it seem to fail with some regularity. As some will not be surprised to learn, I have the feeling that it has something to do with what I like to call “the quest for greatness.” That is, the men who wrote the Constitution sought to create a “great nation,” a nation that could only be created by means of a pervasively powerful national government that would draw into it men of great ambition and accomplishments who would undertake, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, ambitious projects, “extensive and arduous projects” that would secure the good of or “re-form” society while creating an “empire” of impressive power that would illuminate, at the very least, the world by its example.
Anyway, it seems worthwhile to raise this question and see what kind of answers we might come up with. To be continued.