Reforming Government Work

One long-standing Republican idea may finally be put to the test in the coming Trump administration. They propose to change the model of government business to align with how business in general is conducted. And the federal civilian workforce is not going to like it one bit.

The primary motivation for this is efficiency. The view of many Republicans is that government workers, or “the bureaucracy” as they snidely say, are a coddled elite who are profligate with our tax dollars. This cartoon from the Bill Clinton era captures that viewpoint amusingly.


This is a gross canard, but it is true that they live in a somewhat insulated world, with job protections and benefits the rest of us don’t enjoy. At one time this seemed justified by the fact that they were paid less than equivalent workers in the private sector. By and large this is no longer true, so why not strip off some of this insulation? Wouldn’t it be helpful for government workers to better appreciate the impacts of their actions if they were equally affected?

Note that I said “some of this insulation”. Creation of a modern civil service was a big improvement over the politically corrupt system it replaced. It should be a matter of pride not scorn. So changes should be made cautiously so as to preserve its benefits. Those envisioned seem largely to satisfy that constraint.

The key ideas are pay for performance rather than longevity, green light to fire poor performers, ban on union business on government time, and switching to 401k’s instead of defined benefit pensions. Every one of these is anathema to federal unions and, presumably, to their members. But really, what is wrong with them from the broader perspective of a productive and frugal government?

Their one other idea along these lines is to impose a hiring freeze in order to shrink government generally by attrition. Even though they would exempt military, public safety and health workers, and actually increase the Border Patrol, this still seems a bit mindless to me.

Trump: An Alternative Perspective

Donald Trump really isn’t a modern Republican by any measure of the term. His policies, such as they are, combine populist and nationalist concepts from across the political spectrum with a smattering of old-style Republican economics. They are more slogans than plans. It really isn’t clear how much of any of it is heartfelt belief and how much is cynical salesmanship. The fact of his near success is a testament to the powerful yearning of so many for a safer, simpler time.

After Donald Trump's big win in the Indiana primary, the #NeverTrump people are waking up this morning in a state of disbelief.

I believe he is more properly thought of as a third-party candidate, but one who cleverly hijacked the Republican Party infrastructure to his needs. As such, he is far and away the most successful such candidate since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and maybe for all time. If not as a politician or even as a human being, he deserves real credit for his accomplishment in this role. A better man with his talents just might have gone all the way to the White House. But then, of course, a better man wouldn’t have chosen his methods so we will never know.

The question remains whether Trump’s imprint on his Republican Party host will persist after the likely deluge next month. I suspect that it will, for a simple reason. The GOP as it was before Trump was demographically doomed. Some basic change was always necessary but the dinosaurs leading the party had no idea how to accomplish this. After their defeats by Obama they tried to see a way forward and even wrote a plan of action, but the necessary changes were simply too great to swallow. In any case, they would have moved the party uncomfortably closer to the center.

One possibility is a schism, perhaps similar to Teddy’s Bull Moose Party. But that requires a leader to arise from the establishment rather than from the outside. I see no one with the necessary talent and daring. But this I do predict: if a substantial centrist party ever arose and began to flourish, it would sweep the boards. Both of our current major parties show signs of decrepitude.

Nostalgia and Selective Memory

lead_960At the Republican convention, enterprising reporters asked a selection of delegates when exactly was America great before, i.e. what period were they yearning to reproduce? There were several decades mentioned. The Reagan and even the Bill Clinton eras got votes. But far and away, the post-WW2 period received the most votes, in particular the early years of the Eisenhower administration.

This particular nostalgia seems quite understandable to me. Those old enough to remember it were probably white, middle-class youngsters at the time. You might get a different answer from a black delegate – that is, if you could find one.

Still, it does seem a bit odd to yearn for the Cold War era, when children were being taught to “duck and cover” in an A-bomb attack, an era when crude and overt segregation reigned over the South, an era when Sen. McCarthy was trampling rights hither and yon, an era when dreaded polio struck thousands every summer. But then, selective memory isn’t confined just to early evidence of Alzheimer’s Disease.



Hmm? No intrusive social media, “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners”, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, Saturday night at the drive-in with your honey, Norman Rockwell images, schools where the worst offense was chewing gum in class, humming factories filled with WW2 veterans building new lives and families … I am starting to get a bit enthused myself!