[Published as “Culture of Incompetence and Deceit”]

Just married, one week shy of 25, I arrived to begin my internship with a large mainstream Protestant church in southeast Ohio, only to discover that the pastor was hospitalized with double pneumonia. While he recovered I quickly discovered how mean-spirited some religious folk can be. Some church members didn’t like him (probably found him too liberal), doubtless hoped to get rid of him, and tried to take away his travel allowance, observing that he was not using it during his convalescence (never mind his mounting medical bills). Talk about kicking somebody when they’re down! Ever since, I’ve had few illusions about ostensibly religious people–they include some of the best, and some of the worst.

So I am dismayed but not surprised that most current administration leaders seem bent on kicking people when they’re down. Their behavior is damnable. There’s nothing magical about tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for the needy (touting the virtues of the “invisible hand” masks a multitude of market failures and political sleights-of-hand). There is something inherently cruel, cynical, and sinister about an administration that professes to be compassionately conservative while advancing a radically unmerciful agenda. Privatized “social” security, private health savings accounts, basic neglect of Katrina’s victims, cut-backs in Medicare and educational spending–all policies calculated to discredit government if not further debilitate precisely those citizens who are already disadvantaged due to circumstances of birth, illness, and other factors largely beyond their control.

I’m not claiming that current leaders are without good intentions–but where does the proverbial pavement lead? Good intention without regard for actual realities is abominable. Ideology reigns. Washington’s current culture of incompetence and deceit bespeaks a perverse lack of understanding if not systematic intent to destroy public institutions. The more fundamental problem, in any case, is the arrogance of top leaders and their obliviousness to their own self-deceptions. They may think they’re doing the right thing, or at least the thing of most benefit to themselves. They cannot fathom the evil that they wreak. Blinded by self-righteousness, or self-interest, the result is the same: unmitigated disaster for the body politic, beginning with the most vulnerable.


That intern year? A heart attack claimed the pastor the week he returned to work. Two days later four youth and their teacher perished in a boiler explosion. God’s wrath? Hardly. (The wrong people died.) It was a hellish time. Looks like now is another.

Copyright 2006 by Byron C. Bangert