Because said officials are even more ignorant than the Pundits of the Potomac. A few months ago, Jeff Stein published an op-ed about the many officials who are charged with anti-terrorism and who also know nothing about the Middle East–to the point where they don’t know if Hezbollah is Sunni or Shiite. Stein has followed up with an interview with incoming House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes.
As far as I can tell, Reyes is marginally more informed than his Republican predecessors, which is damning with faint praise. Shakes and Ezra Klein both pile on Reyes, so I won’t do that here. What occurred to me while reading their posts is that if one is as ignorant as Reyes, much of the pundits, particularly ‘serious’ ones who suffer from Compulsive Centrist Disorder, sound like geniuses. After all, most politicians have an instinct for the middle of the pack, even if that ‘middle’ is nothing of the sort, or just a really bad idea.
Matt Taibbi described the modern punditocracy as:
…the real thing is an accurate reflection of our actual politics. Which means, basically, that we’re fucked, stuck in an endless cycle of retarded lottery coverage — 300 million people watching a bunch of half-bright millionaires in ties guess the next number to come out of the chute.
What’s more terrifying is that knowing if Hezbollah is Sunni or Shiite is the easy question. Then you actually have to apply that information:
To his [Terry Everett, Republican of Alabama, vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence] credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni.
“Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he said, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”
This explanation happened in 2006. So, in 2002-2006, how could he possibly call bullshit on a guy like Bill Kristol, who knows the right answer and is very good at appearing to know what he is talking about?
Answer: he can’t.
So how do so many ignorant people get elected to positions of responsibility? Clearly, Bush shows that the Peter Principle is not operative. I think the problem is related to the absence of meaningful campaign finance reform, such as publicly funded campaigns. The primary qualification of the modern politician is the ability to raise money. That is simply the ability to cold-call rich people and ask them for donations. The ability to chat them up at a private fundraiser helps too. Unfortunately, these ‘skills’ are off-putting to many, otherwise qualified political hopefulls. They are also completely unrelated to the skills needed for governing. (Given that introspection and private reflection probably help with governing, fundraising skills might even be a hinderance to governing).
This is no way to run an empire, let alone a republic.