Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Strategy - The Remix

On Tuesday, the president declared in his flashbulb-shattering speech to the Renewable Fuel Association that "the long-term strategy" with respect to 'energy independence' was to run automobiles "on something other than oil." Any questions?

Not anymore. The word 'strategy' has played an axial role in Bush's vision of his policymaking job. Political visions, as Julian Sanchez explained in a recent column, are defined in Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions" as belonging to two categories: constrained and unconstrained. The constrained vision observes certain intractable limits which human nature imposes on the intrinsic potential of people and institutions when faced with historically constant and infinitely complicated crises. The competing unconstrained vision sees no such permanent limitations on knowledge or action, and instead insists that fortitude, patience, and ingenuity hold limitless potential in personal and social affairs. So repairing humanity is the simple visceral matter of summoning the courage of convictions necessary to take action and stay the course, whatever features the course may exhibit. While scrupulously fair to both visions and ultimately suggesting that some equilibrium is ideal, Sowell clearly depicts the latter political vision as dangerous, reckless and delusory.

Moments such as this scrub away any ambiguity as to which vision captivates Bush's mind. Returning to the above example, was it not obvious to audience members that whatever the merits of the aim of replacing oil with "something other than oil", this description of an aim suggests no obvious relationship to any kind of strategy (especially a 'long-term' one)? But in the unconstrained vision, as in the long and rusty chain of this administration's decisions and rationales, a strategy is just a goal in which elites and leaders earnestly and persistently believe. Ends are vital, means are ornamental. In ordinary life this is a troublesome assumption. In political activity it is a disastrous one. This has yet to dawn on the president, and I wouldn't predict an epiphany before 2008. But, with mid-terms in view, the fact that conservatives climbed to power espousing a constrained vision in politics might be worth reminding Republicans up for re-election.

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