Arrogance, incompetence... and lies!

It’s not unusual to look at the halls of ivy and read in its graffiti colorful stories full of wisdom; factual gems often embellished by collegiate folklore.

I was told one such anecdote recently by a law professor from the University of Madrid , as we were engaged in a lively discussion on the many faces of arrogance in government… and how they affect policy-implementation, principally when dealing in foreign affairs.

The story has it, according to my friend, how one of Complutum’s many famous alumni, and trailblazer of Spanish democracy, demonstrated his one-upmanship in 1846 over an aristocratic and pedantic law professor who “had it in for him.”

The protagonist was a doctoral student, Pi y Margall, a young man from very humble beginnings, who had been asked by this master of scholastic ostentation, and jealous mentor (we are told), whether, if forced into a choice, he would prefer to see Spain governed by an arrogant monarch or by an incompetent one… referring to the series of rulers the kingdom had endured during the previous two centuries. Pi’s reply, given in a firm but gentle voice, was characteristic of his pragmatic mind… and of the genius that would later make him a great statesman, and a true man of the people; not to forget a brief stint as president during Spain ’s First Republic .

“We need not worry, sir,” Pi replied, “for our Queen, like her ancestors before her, prevent us from ever having to face that dilemma by being both.” He was referring to Queen Isabella II, a then sixteen year old arrogant nitwit with a shallow mind and lacking in the most rudimentary education, who was governing Spain with the counsel of military politicians.

Does it ring a bell? Sixteen decades later, here we are, across the Atlantic… where the ruler of an aspiring empire could very well be anointed with the same judgment given the ruler of a then dissipating empire. Bush appears to be but another, if older, Isabella; and Cheney, his Regent, the political master of the ruling neocons, the 21st century counterparts of those erratic, fumbling 19th century generals.

As undesirable as arrogance and incompetence are, singularly, each on its own; it’s our misfortune that they are not mutually exclusive, that the two can easily coexist, and often do. Not a theory, but a fact. Just see them both simmer side by side in today’s political cauldron. Arrogance and incompetence… twins foaled by an administration that couldn’t give birth to any human endearing conditions, such as compassion and equanimity in exercising political moderation. Arrogance and incompetence by an administration that has been allowed to govern a nation ideologically split, and without the benefit of a majority popular vote.

But if arrogance is deemed tolerable by Americans, at least on a temporary basis, incompetence is not. So why, then, have we had incompetence running rampant, totally amok, for over three years now? What is whitewashing such an inconceivable level of incompetence from intelligent, if ideologues, government leaders?

Simply and to the point: lies. Lies that have been masking the administration’s incompetence in all affairs of state, foreign and domestic… by allowing America to step into a military quagmire; by showing total disdain in safeguarding the environment; and, by sponsoring legislation that would widen the existing socio-economic gap between haves and have-nots in America. Lies repeated with such force and frequency, and of such magnitude, that not just dim truth but extinguish it altogether. Madison Avenue always had it right… just keep repeating something often enough until it sparks a life of its own, whether a desirable breakfast cereal, or a Frankenstein.

It‘s of little consolation to accept Lincoln ’s axiom assuring us that “…you can not fool all the people, all the time.” After all, Bush and Company need only fool a slim majority just one more time. And they appear to be well on their way, recycling lie after lie… with competence this time!