Jon Chait gets the modern GOP down cold:
Of all the low points during the Bush administration, perhaps the most surreal was the week in December 2004 when Bernie Kerik was poised to become secretary of Homeland Security. By the traditional measures used to judge qualifications for this sort of job, Kerik was not an ideal candidate. The main points in Kerik’s favor were his loyal service to Rudy Giuliani, first as driver for his mayoral campaign, then corrections commissioner, then police commissioner–the last of which was commemorated by the casting of 30 Kerik busts. On the negative side of the ledger were his multiple alleged felonies, including tax evasion and conspiracy to commit wiretapping (currently being investigated by federal prosecutors), and his (also alleged) ties to the DeCavalcante and Gambino crime families.
If a “Sopranos” writer proposed a plotline in which a Kerik-like figure rose through the ranks to become head of the department charged with preventing the next terrorist attack, he would be laughed off the show. So how did it almost happen in real life? The Washington Post recently reconstructed the Kerik nomination: The decisive factor seemed to be that Bush was “lulled by Kerik’s swaggering Sept. 11 reputation.”
That last sentence is, in many ways, the perfect epigraph for the Bush presidency. The Kerik episode displayed many of the pathologies of modern Republican governance: incompetence, corruption, an obsession with loyalty over traditional qualifications. But it shows with particular clarity Bush’s most distinct contribution: the mistaking of macho bluster for strategic acumen.
Alas, Republicans seem to be making the same exact mistake again. Exhibit A is the leading GOP candidate, Giuliani. Republicans love Giuliani, of course, for the same reason they loved Bush: He’s a 9/11 tough guy. Recently, GOP consultant Roger Stone explained the basis of Giuliani’s appeal to Texas Republicans. “Stylistically, Texans like the Giuliani swagger,” Stone told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s a tough guy, and Texans like tough guys.”
The war on terrorism, boasts Giuliani, “is something I understand better than anyone else running for president.” This would be very scary if it were true. In recent weeks, Giuliani mistakenly said that it was unclear whether North Korea was further along toward a nuclear bomb than Iran, casually lumped together Shia Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda, and confessed he didn’t know enough about the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism detainees to take a position. In fact, Giuliani wasn’t even a particularly good terrorism fighter as mayor. A mere six years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he decided to locate the city’s emergency headquarters in the World Trade Center itself–the one spot in all New York City he knew had been targeted for attack. He also failed to ensure that police and firefighters could communicate with one another, with disastrous results.
I am still inclined to think that Giuliani won’t win the nomination (although I must admit I can’t say who will win it.) But it does make sense that he would do better than one might suspect given his substantive positions. He’s the logical heir to the vapid candidacy of George Allen. Anti-terrorism is Giuliani’s selling point, but his actual record is one of gross incompetence that led to many unnecessary deaths on 9/11. But he looked good holding a megaphone, and to Republicans (not only the base but many elites) that’s what really matters.
For one of hundreds of examples of how this leads to appallingly bad governance, see the Bush Department of Education helping its friends in the student loan industry loot the public fisc.