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I’ve always loved “Failing your way to the top” as a way to describe how the world of Washington’s intertwined political, policy, and media classes works. Not coincidentally, endless examples of handsomely rewarded incompetence no doubt feed Main Street USA’ strong belief that much of American life is rigged against it. So it’s more than fitting that the last three days alone have provided three more major instances of career Washingtonians getting major issues massively wrong – and surely in no danger of facing any adverse consequences.

The first comes from the Washington Post‘s new first cut at a post-mortem on former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s spectacular flame-out of a presidential campaign. Many lavishly paid political consultants and fund-raisers must deserve considerable blame, but no one’s been a bigger lightning rod for criticism than Mike Murphy. The veteran Republican operative directed Bush’s Right to Rise “Super-Pac” (political action committee), and therefore reportedly made many of the key tactical mistakes that ultimately doomed Bush.

Post reporter Ed O’Keefe’s account of the disaster is worth your while, so I won’t list all the revealing anecdotes here. But one that’s worth spotlighting is Murphy’s admission that he didn’t detect the huge “anti-establishment wave” that has been sweeping over the American electorate. In fairness to Murphy, this widespread anger probably doomed Bush’s candidacy from the start. At the same time, consultants like Murphy are paid the big bucks (reportedly $14 million) to know this – or figure it out – and develop responses that don’t repeatedly keep flopping – and laughably.

In fact, where’s this guy been for most of the last two years? Prowling the toney haunts of megabucks donors hungrily eyeing their wallets? (Actually, O’Keefe’s article indicates that’s exactly where he’s been.)

So on the one hand, it will be interesting to see how long it’s going to take Murphy to get his next contract. On the other, as one wag on Twitter cracked, given his reported payday, he may not need one. The more so since just a few years earlier, Murphy also cashed in big by steering eBay founder Meg Whitman’s $177 million campaign for governor of California to defeat at the hands of Jerry Brown.

Another long-time Beltway denizen who could well keep failing her way to the top is Katie Packer Gage. Her latest claim to fame is convincing the uber-wealthy Ricketts family, which founded finance giant TD Ameritrade and owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, to spend $3 million to fund a Super-Pac she created to take down GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Kudos to Packer Gage for raising these funds – especially since her previous major experience in national politics was advising 2012 Republican presidential loser Mitt Romney. Or maybe the Ricketts were simply chumps. Earlier this political cycle, Marlene Ricketts shelled out several million dollars to finance the (quickly) failed presidential run of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker.

But I’m still not convinced that other likely Packer Gage prospects will wise up. Because like Murphy, she’s plugged into the Republican half of the Beltway Establishment, and will always get glowing references from colleagues in this anti-Meritocracy – for their careers also depend on their skill at covering up or, more commonly, spinning away abject failure.  

Our final example of certain-to-be-rewarded Washington incompetence comes from the supposedly apolitical world of the International Monetary Fund. Among the IMF’s functions is tracking major trends in the world economy, and to this end the Fund puts out a veritable torrent of studies and forecasts. Now I’d be the first person to acknowledge how tough it is to predict the courses of the U.S. economy, any other national economy, or the global economy. That’s largely why I shy away from predictions. But presumably, the legions of economists at the IMF have gotten their jobs because they’re good at what they do. I’ve certainly been a frequent user of their material.

But the latest annual report of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which gives a U.S. Administration’s official take on the state of the American economy and where it’s heading, contained this startling chart, which will make me think twice about citing the IMF’s projections. It clearly shows that for at least four years, the Fund’s best economic brains have consistently – and whoppingly – overestimated global growth:

Which raises the questions: Have any of the Fund economists behind these blunders been cashiered? Are they likely to be? Have any such professional staff paid any price for any comparable goofs?

Again, no one should expect political consultants to win every election, or economists to possess perfectly clear crystal balls. But no successful system of anything can last without at least to levy major punishment for instances of major ineptitude. Wondering why Washington politics and policy have become so close to dysfunctional? The capital’s conspicuous accountability shortage is a great place to start.   

 

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