Friday, March 10, 2006

Jim Hoagland at WaPo compares Bush to Putin

Two Leaders' Power Failures:

"The powers of the presidency have been eroded and usurped to the breaking point. We are engaged in a new kind of war that cannot be fought by old methods. It can only be directed by a strong executive who alone is not subject to the conflicting pressures that legislators or judges face. The public understands and supports that unpleasant reality, whatever the media and intellectuals say.'

"These words came from a White House aide defending U.S. policies on Guantanamo Bay prisoners, secret renditions and warrantless eavesdropping in a conversation with me. A few days later, I heard a Russian official use nearly identical terms to defend his country's coercive merging of private energy and media companies under state control.

"Both Putin and Bush swim against the tides of their time as state power fragments or atrophies everywhere, not just in Moscow or Washington. The spread of technology and global communications weakens all governments. The better policy choice is to take those changes into account and use them in nimble fashion, rather than simply lashing out against them in strong-arm fashion.

"U.S. public trust and confidence in the Bush White House are slipping toward the threshold of self-sustaining political disaster. A serious schism within the Republican Party itself is no longer unthinkable if the White House cannot demonstrate minimal competence in managing Katrina, Guantanamo, Dubai Ports World and other controversies. There is a point, . . . where even those who wish you well will give up."

That's certainly a subtle way of slamming George W. Bush, who has seen a great many previous supporters abandon him over the years.

Hoagland is wrong, though, to suppose that the spread of technology and communications "weakens" government. Quite the contrary, control is cheap for the first time in history, and getting cheaper by the minute. Control is power. Because control is so cheap, it is available to anyone with resources, and that does favor a certain decentralization, but decentralization is not a weakening of the center. The center is gaining cheap control at, at least, the same rate, and for the same reasons, as the periphery, and the total power of the whole system is, potentially, available to the center.

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