Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Rod Dreher asked on his blog: what, besides the existence of aliens, is the biggest secret the government keeps from us?
Among the jocular responses was this gem, which I think sums up the key weakness of our Federal Government:
I have seen the flow of information around Washington up close for more than two decades, and the simple fact is that there just isn’t this glamorous network of super-informed insiders… mostly the government is just midlevel bureaucrats who get assigned on short notice to learn about issues about which they know little in order to give a briefing report to political appointees who know nothing. Even on issues of critical national security, this is how Congress informs itself, and it’s even how the executive branch tends to work… Pick an issue, and if you read the publicly available trade press that covers the issue and attend any major industry or academic conferences on the issue, you’ll know more about that issue than anyone in Washington, no matter how much intelligence the NSA supposedly gathers about the matter.
I’d say the biggest surprises about the federal government are that there is no vast conspiracy – our government workers have neither the competency nor the information to pull such a thing off, no matter how much useless and boring reams of useless information is marked “classified” – and that most of the people who work for the government, including most elected officials of both parties, are honorable patriots with good intentions doing their level best.
Shorter version: it is simply not possible for the U.S. Government to do much with the information it has, let alone information it does not have. The incompetence is built into the very nature of bureaucracy.
When crotchety conservatives like me complain about big government, it isn’t simply on a moral level, that it is often destructive for government to fill roles traditionally left to private individuals, but that it is also practically impossible for government to do it. When people want government to rationalize some sector of society or the economy, they are often asking the impossible. Like any other corporation, a government can only do a mere handful of things well.
By the way, if you are not reading Rod Dreher, start today. You have no excuse.