Since the arrangements to pay me for reading Sebastian Mallaby have fallen through, I have outsourced wading through the dreck to Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. Ezra writes:
Ezra Klein: The CEO President: Matt is, I fear, too kind to Sebastian Mallaby's sleight-of-hand:
Mallaby ends with a kicker. "American business succeeds in the world because it morphs, shape-shifts, learns from its mistakes; it is too paranoid, too anxious to please its customers, to stick with formulas that aren't working," he writes, "The question posed by last week's BBC poll is whether American government can mimic that agility." Well, what a nice center-right I-used-to-work-for-the-Economist way of putting things. Business good and nimble, government clumsy and inept. But of course the problem here isn't that "American government" has proved reckless and stubborn and trashed America's global image. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, etc. have done these things.... There's not an abstract government problem here, there's a concrete Bush administration problem.
But it's worse than that, of course. George W. Bush ran for president explicitly promising to run government more like a business. He was the "CEO President," remember? He'd led companies, owned baseball teams, understood delegation, and wouldn't waste time in interminable meetings or late-night policy discussions like the undisciplined, un-business-like Clinton. Indeed, we even got weird extensions of the Bush-as-CEO brand, like The Rumsfeld Way : Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick.
The CEO President, of course, ran his company, his company's reputation, and his own reputation into the ground. And so those committed to conservatism's Manichean view of the private and public sectors (private good, public bad) are back to blaming government. But when government was run by Clinton, a longtime political executive who sought to run it as a good government, it worked quite well. It was only once we elected a self-described CEO and instinctual privatizer that everything came off the rails. And we elected him largely on the strength of business-glorifying bromides like the one Mallaby offers above.
It is interesting that the best argument for the 1960s Republican claim that American government is evil and corrupt was Richard Nixon. It is interesting that the best argument for today's claim that American government is incompetent is George W. Bush--who is not only incompetent but, I believe, deeply corrupt and evil as well. But there is an easy solution that Mallaby would adopt if he were honest: stop voting for and carrying water for Republicans.