It's not the idiocy, it's the ideology.
Back in the early days of the Iraq war, when it was becoming increasingly clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction and no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, the administration and Congress blamed an "intelligence failure" for leading us into war and for failing to alert us to the 9/11 attack. Every time I heard that trope, I wanted to scream, "There was no intelligence failure!" As Richard Clarke and others have made very clear, invading Iraq was on George W.'s to-do list from Day One of his Presidency, and the administration had received specific warnings about the threat posed by al Qaeda and hijacked airliners from the outgoing Clinton administration.
Still, allegations of incompetence (especially by wonky intellence analysts) were uncritcally accepted by most of the media. The administration and Congress even created a new superspy bureaucrat, the Director of National Intelligence, as a way of pretending that a) there had indeed been a problem with our intelligence gathering, and b) such problems had been fixed. Blaming the war in Iraq and our failure to detect the 9/11 attacks on incompetence--rather than on consciously chosen policies--worked very well for the administration.
As Digby and Josh Marshall have pointed out, the administration has deployed the "incompetence dodge" in a number of other areas as well, from its response to Hurricane Katrina to the creation of a crippling federal deficit:
These policies will not (again) be discredited until they are tied to their reprehensible results. Insisting on the 'incompetence' of the Bush administration turns attention away from this linkage between policy and result. In fact, it insulates the policies while discrediting the men who are trying to implement them. It, thus, sets the stage for those policies to be enacted again.
The incompetence dodge is being trotted out once again in connection with the conditions at Walter Reed. The administration is pretending that the problems there can be fixed by replacing the top administrators there with people who are presumably more competent than their predecessors. But as recent reports have made clear, the problems at Walter Reed and other armed services hospitals are not due primarily to ineffective leadership; they stem from a deliberate policy, rooted firmly in conservative ideology, of privatizing government services wherever possible:
[I]n January 2006, Walter Reed awarded a five-year $120 million contract to a company called IAP Worldwide Services for base operations support services, including facilities management,” Waxman continues. “IAP is one of the companies that experienced problems delivering ice during the response to Hurricane Katrina.”
Waxman notes that IAP “is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official who testified before our Committee in July 2004 in defense of Halliburton’s exorbitant charges for fuel delivery and troop support in Iraq.”
Before the contract, over 300 federal employees provided facilities management services at Walter Reed, according to the memorandum, but that number dropped to less than 60 the day before IAP took over.
“Yet instead of hiring additional personnel, IAP apparently replaced the remaining 60 federal employees with only 50 IAP personnel,” Waxman writes.
Framing the multiple failures of the administration as no more than incompetence in execution--the effect a few bad apples, as it were--is indeed a dodge. The Democrats must avoid falling into this rhetorical trap, and instead firmly, clearly and repeatedly link the deplorable condition of so many aspects of our governance today with the GOP's deliberate policy choices.