The postmodern presidency

The most common explanation for this animus is that the White House overflows with political hacks uninterested in the nitty-gritty of policy. But the administration’s expert-bashing also has deep roots in ideology. Since its inception, modern American conservatism has harbored a suspicion of experts, who, through adherence to inductive reasoning and academic methodologies, claim to provide objective research and analysis. To be sure, this social-scientific approach has its limits. Conservatives have raised genuinely troubling questions about its predilection for downplaying the role of “culture” and “values” in shaping human behavior. But the Bush administration has adopted a far more extreme version of this critique: It takes the radically postmodern view that “science,” “objectivity,” and “truth” are guises for an ulterior, leftist agenda; that experts are so incapable of dispassionate and disinterested analysis that their work doesn’t even merit a hearing. And the results have been disastrous.

The particularly amusing part from the background:

These pretensions made the CIA a ripe target for the New Class critique. Nobody raised graver doubts about the Agency than Albert Wohlstetter, the University of Chicago political scientist who mentored both Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle. In 1974, Wohlstetter published an essay in Foreign Policy, charging that the U.S. government chronically underestimated the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Over time, conservatives developed a theory to explain this alleged undercounting of missiles: The Agency was biased–stocked with graduates of elite liberal colleges who were schooled in secular rationalism and the mores of the New Class. Richard Pipes, the Harvard historian who chaired Team B–a panel of outsiders the CIA eventually invited to reexamine its intel on the Soviet threat–wrote a 1995 Commentary essay portraying the archetypal Agency analyst like this: “Such a person does not understand and therefore is unable to take seriously ideological or religious fanaticism; he interprets behavior that does not serve his conception of enlightened self-interest as either affectation or the result of material want and social injustice.” Abram Shulsky, a rand Corporation analyst who ran the Pentagon’s controversial Iraq war-planning outfit, the Office of Special Plans (OSP), has made this critique at length in essays and in Silent Warfare, a book he co-authored with Gary Schmitt. Instead of trying to understand tyrannical regimes on their own terms, Shulsky and Schmitt argue, CIA analysts have been trained to believe that “people are fundamentally alike and want the same things”–that all of humanity can be studied with the same models that economists and sociologists apply to farmers in South Dakota.

Seriously, this article explains everything. This administration has fucked everything up because anytime they get an answer they don’t like, the apparent reason assume the speaker is “biased.” Yeah, the entire CIA is full of “leftists” who can’t see Saddam’s obvious WMD program and Al Qaeda ties.

The parallels to conservative media criticism are obvious…

There are dozens of similar examples of scientific abuse. Last year, top EPA officials quietly blocked dissemination of a report analyzing the efficacy of congressional legislation limiting the release of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. The administration quashed the report because it would have highlighted the necessity of imposing regulations it opposes. In March, the Los Angeles Times reported that the National Marine Fisheries Service hired six leading marine scientists to study the health of West Coast salmon and steelhead trout species. But the service stripped almost all of the scientists’ recommendations from its official report.

While this suppression seems like naked pandering to the administration’s industry friends, there’s an ideological superstructure to justify its behavior: Conservatives contend that even scientific conclusions stem from ideological bias. Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking, an anthology published by the Hoover Institution and the industry-funded Marshall Institute, is the critique’s clearest distillation. The book contends that scientists are driven by a “love of power and domination.” They produce studies that show environmental crises, for instance, because these crises spur Congress to spend money on the EPA–which, in turn, finances their research. In other words, as with budget and intelligence analysts, scientists may style themselves as objective, but they are anything but. It’s an argument that the Bush administration repeats often: Officials argue that policy should flow from “sound science,” not “junk science.”

This sounds like baseball men railing against “Moneyball.”


Slate ran a story like this one about 10 months ago. It was only about Bush though.