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Government by Frame

It is commonplace to talk about the framing advantage enjoyed by Republicans. They define issues in a way that favors their positions and they have the media resources to quickly transform their cognitive shells into the conventional wisdom. It is an incredibly effective strategy, forcing Democrats, who lack the GOP megaphone, to debate issues on Republican terms.

It is not, however, a good way to approach policy. Competent policy management and development requires the ability to analyze issues from multiple sides and from multiple perspectives. There is a sense of dishonesty in the idea of framing, because politicians must consciously recognize that their frames are intentional, artificial as soon as they get to DC- after using frames to get elected, they must discard them to create policy.

GOP framing has been so effective, though, that the administration is either unable, or unwilling to see through them when making important policy decisions. The best example, though not actually a policy decision, is the withdrawn nomination of Bernard Kerik. Kerik, a nominee for head of the Department of Homelad Security, has been lambasted for transgression after transgression, ranging from possibly mythical nanny issues to bigamy to organized crime connections to Saudi government connections to junketing the creation of the Iraqi security forces [see Josh Marshall for details]. What's key in this discussion, though, is that he was horribly underqualified to serve as the head of the Department of Homeland Security. How could Bush and his advisors have chosen a guy like Kerik to head what the GOP pretends is the most important Cabinet Position of the 21st century?

They liked his "toughness." They believed their own campaign rhetoric, their frame of Bush's policy positions as "harder" than Kerry's. They lost sight of the fact that "toughness" has little to nothing to do with actually securing the country, if they ever saw, or cared about, this at all.

White House officials are defensive about the vetting process. They say they depended on Kerik to be forthcoming, and he failed to warn them of the nanny problem... But some administration officials acknowledge that the president's predilections work against a careful review. Bush hates leaks and enjoys popping surprise announcements on the press. He liked the idea of Kerik—the self-made tough guy—and he dismissed as gossip or press carping newspaper stories about Kerik's bending the rules. [Newsweek 12/20/04]
This is Bush governing with his gut - but his bowells have been filled with bilge from his sycophantic advisers. The GOP is more than willing to use bad policy for partisan advantage - but it would be nice if they would bother look at the costs of their decisions before imposing them on the country. I guess I'm not cynical enough.


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