When Thinkers Get It Wrong — And Escape Blame

On Climate Change Deniers, Budget Hawks and 'Democratizers'

Remember Him? Former FEMA leader Michael Browne won infamy when President George W. Bush congratulated him for doing a ‘heckuva job’ after Hurricane Katrina. Others deserve similar plaudits.
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Remember Him? Former FEMA leader Michael Browne won infamy when President George W. Bush congratulated him for doing a ‘heckuva job’ after Hurricane Katrina. Others deserve similar plaudits.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published December 24, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.

These waning days of December are traditionally a time for journalists to sum up the events of the past year and choose highlights for your consideration. A favorite approach is to pick winners and losers, but given the year we’ve just had, that doesn’t feel right. Sure, Obama won and Romney lost. Then what?

Instead, let’s look at some folks who nearly took a hit in 2012, and may have had it coming, but managed to dodge the bullet and hang on for another round. Let’s hand out the first annual Brownie Awards. Heck of a job, guys.

First up, advocates of bringing democracy to the Middle East. Perennial kibitzers, they were galvanized into a movement by Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1993 book, “A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World.” Bibi claimed that Israel could never negotiate peace with its neighbors until they were brought from dictatorship into democracy. To be fair, he probably never imagined anyone would be crazy enough to try it, intending it only as a way to avoid ever having to negotiate and compromise.

Netanyahu, of course, couldn’t foresee how the horrors of September 2001 would make the fight against Islamist terrorism into an American crusade, marrying righteous anger with can-do American grit and down-home Texas recklessness. Nor could he foresee Osama bin Laden’s ingenious harnessing of American firepower to accomplish what bin Laden never could have done on his own: begin toppling secular Arab dictators and replacing them with democratically elected Islamic fundamentalists. And nobody could have foreseen the time lag between the first and second rounds of toppling, allowing the authors of the blunder to blame their mess on the guy elected to clean it up, Barack Obama. Not everyone buys the dodge, of course, but they’ve found just enough suckers to keep themselves in business. Congrats, democratizers. Heck of a job.

Next up, those so-called fiscal conservatives who tell us that lowering taxes, deregulating business, muzzling unions and reducing government spending is what makes an economy grow. They’ve been peddling this snake-oil assiduously for three decades, ever since a genial Hollywood actor was elected to try it out on us. What we got, amazingly, was the same growth rate we’d had during the previous three decades of higher taxes and tighter regulation. Government didn’t shrink, of course; instead, we got a steadily rising mountain of public debt to pay for what taxes used to cover. And with unions crippled, most of the growth went into the pockets of the wealthiest few, who became rich beyond their wildest dreams (or, perhaps, precisely as they’d dreamed) while most of us treaded water or worse.



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