Sunday, May 06, 2007

How It Works

In lieu of actual content today, since I spent the morning food shopping and most of the afternoon catching cars for Thing 1's Cub Scout Pack's Soapbox Derby (surprisingly fun, actually), and since I expect to spend the evening watching Little Children, here's a quote from a generally wonderful book (with two big flaws, to be explicated tomorrow in a "Just Read" post, I hope).

The book is Boomsday by Christopher Buckley. We pick up in the middle of p.191:
...presidential commissions are for the most part things to be ignored, a vermiform appendix to the body politic. It was always the same.

Important personages are appointed to the commission, with instructions to -- by all means -- study the problem in all its complexity, get to the root of it, and report back to the very highest levels of government. Six, nine months go by, with occasional fifteen-second sound bites on the evening news of commissioners sternly telling witnesses that they were not coming clean with the commission; the witnesses replying that, really, they're doing their best (give us a break). In due course, the commission delivers its report. There is a day or two of news coverage. The media reports the findings, that the United States is about to run out of molybdenum, or be overcome by bacteria emanating from geese; or that filthy, disgusting Arabs have no right to own American seaports, no matter how moderate they are; or that the government has no disaster plan ready in the event an asteroid the size of Rhode Island lands in the Pacific Ocean; or that the CIA failed to detect the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Tehran embassy takeover, Grenada, Iran-contra, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Bosnia, the attack on the USS Cole, 9/11, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Oh Shit, Now What?; or that there really was no excuse at all for launching those cruise missiles against Papua New Guinea.

These revelations are duly followed by graver tsk-tsking and chin rubbing and hand-wringing about how these vitally important issues are still being mishandled and even ignored by the government. The commissioners are officially thanked for their diligent efforts and given commemorative paperweights with the wrong middle initial. The president and the relevant cabinet secretaries and government officials pledge to give the commission's recommendations "the most serious consideration" (which is to say, none whatsoever), and everyone goes back to ignoring and mismanaging the vital issues.

Six months later, one of the ex-commissioners writes a pained and well-argued op-ed piece in The New York Times, complaining that nothing -- not one single recommendation -- has been acted upon. Whereupon a junior White House press secretary issues a pained, not-very-well-argued statement saying this is simply "not the case." Moreover, that as a result of the commission's "fine work," a number of things have been done, though he is not at liberty to go into the details. Moreover, further study is needed, as this is -- "indeed" -- an issue of vital importance not only to the nation, but to all nations, And that's the end of it.
I knew it was something like that...

1 comment:

MLR said...

I feel cynical now, but that rang so true.

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