How government really works

Politicians and government bureaucrats always paint a wonderful picture of how great their policies and programs will work. Just give them more money, and nirvana will arrive.

But sometimes, the government functionaries tell us what really goes on. Here's former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from his new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War.” This is about the Pentagon and the federal government, but could be about any other part of the federal government, or the state government, or your local city, county or school government:

I did not just have to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq and against al Qaeda; I also had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, surmount internal conflicts within both administrations, avoid the partisan abyss in Congress, evade the single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members of Congress and resist the magnetic pull exercised by the White House, especially in the Obama administration, to bring everything under its control and micromanagement. Over time, the broad dysfunction of today's Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation.

And for a civilian take on government, this is from “Locked in the Cabinet,” by another Robert back in 1997, Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's secretary of labor. He quotes his wife:

“It's always the same thing. Who's up? Who's down? Who's in? Who's out? It's a one-company town, Bob. Everyone works for the same company [the federal government] in some way or another. Politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, lawyers, lobbyists. And all that really counts is your rank in the company. Power, power, power! No one cares about ideas or values, or even their families.” She's crying. “It was bad enough when we didn't have kids. But now I'm not sure I could stand it.”

That's what government really is about. Why do we keep giving these people more money and power?


Tags assigned to this article:
governmentJohn SeilerRobert GatesRobert Reich

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