Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
It’s a fascinating, though disturbing, idea that I confess I’ve held for a while. Imagining that the massive bureaucracy necessary to run the various agencies of our government would really function at the whims and requests of temporary political winds seems more naive all the time. Interests become entrenched, budgets become permanent, and even self-styled reformers seem to be able to do little to change course. Perhaps this is why politicians appeal to divisive “wedge” issues that have little to do with actual governing? The real governing is done by technocrats, middle managers, and former industry insiders.
As pessimistic as that sounds there are solutions, but they depend on citizens paying attention to the government, not campaign slogans. My suggestion when you hear comments like “binders full of women” or “you didn’t build that” highlighted during election season is to:
- Ignore it
- Watch President Eisenhower’s farewell speech1
- Pay attention to the people really guiding the decisions, the agencies of Washington
If enough people do this, spur of the moment pledges from those running for office to reign in the NSA or reduce funding of one thing or another might start to carry some weight. An informed electorate is powerful. An uninformed electorate is… well, look around.
In my opinion this speech should be required viewing for 20th/21st century Civics classes. A good 4th of July tradition would be a review of some of the founding documents of our country and a viewing of this speech. ↩︎