Weekly Standard: Mitt The Knife?

Apr 25, 2012
Originally published on April 25, 2012 8:15 am

Geoffrey Norman writes for The Weekly Standard.

Until last week, Mitt Romney had trouble getting potential voters to care so much that they would crawl over ground glass to get to the polling station and vote for him. But now, the man and moment may have come together, thanks to employees of the General Services Administration and the Secret Service.

If these scandals prove anything, it would be that there are people in the government with way too much time on their hands and far too little regard for their mission. Plainly the sort of people that the enterprise could safely be shed of.

It is not quite so obvious, but still fairly plain, that these weren't sudden, spontaneous, and unique occurrences. Too much organization. Too many people involved. So there was almost certainly precedent and, at the very least, a cultural tolerance for this kind of stuff. People, including senior leadership, knew or suspected, anyway, and did not follow up on their suspicions.

And you have to wonder just how widespread this sort of thing is in Washington. How much do we not hear about because the people in charge don't know and don't want to know, or do know and don't care?

So why not investigate and find out? Use the scandals as an occasion to examine the government, root and branch, with an eye to finding out what departments and which civil servants are ripping off the taxpayers and derelict in their duties. The egregious offenders could then be let go in a government-wide downsizing. Sort of like a bloodless Hunger Games.

Washington can't do anything about the deficit or entitlements. The programs, it seems, are too big and the political risks too high.

Nor, it seems, is it possible to reform the tax system. You don't just start blithely closing loopholes it took fifty years, or more, of skillful lobbying and hard legislative work to put in place. Furthermore, the U.S. Senate is not capable of producing a budget. Hasn't done one for three years, now, so nothing new in that story. Just move along.

Meanwhile, though, it is flat broke, Washington cannot even do the little things, like putting an end to subsidies for sugar and solar power even if we can get all the sugar we need, dirt cheap, from overseas and the solar power companies keep going bankrupt.

Nothing, it seems, changes except that the Leviathan remorselessly grows in both bulk and appetite. But while a demoralized citizenry may have become more or less accustomed to the inertial and impersonal growth of government, one suspects that there is still plenty of capacity for outrage left when it comes to partying down on the public dime. Hard to imagine that there is a constituency for mind readers in Vegas and prostitutes in Colombia.

And right there, perhaps, is a reason to start downsizing, which is something that Romney could promise to do if he is elected. He's had practice at it, he could say, and he's good at it. While his opponent, on the other hand, plainly has no taste for it.

"Hire me," Romney could promise, "so I can fire them."

Imagine what might happen if he arrived in Washington and appointed people with that same set of skills to his cabinet and ordered them to get after it. Maybe even came up with some cash rewards for bureaucrats who had information on other high rolling public servants.

The money saved wouldn't amount to that much. Not enough, certainly, to staunch the entitlement bleeding. But the program would surely go over well with voters and, if Mitt the Knife actually managed to downsize the bureaucracy, voters might then trust him to take on bigger things.

You have to start somewhere.

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