I’m getting a bizarre sense of déjà vu from watching all the heaping helpings of opprobrium being served to the Obama administration over the gulf oil spill. It’s reminding me a lot of the criticism that Bush took after Katrina hit, and it’s just as goofy, and just as disappointing as an indicator of how people view government.
No matter what happens–an oil rig blows up, or a big storm hits, or there’s a downturn in the economy, or the relative humidity is slightly higher today than yesterday–somebody is going to be screaming that the president should “do more.” To which I say, What do you expect him to do? Go to the Louisiana coast in a hazmat suit with a handful of hay and start sopping up the oil?
They say that the federal government should’ve had a plan for an emergency like this. The U.S. has an astonishing variety of plans (including plans for invading Canada, should they ever attempt to cut off our supply of slapstick comedians), but they can’t cover every possible circumstance, and even in those cases when they do, sometimes reality can cut off a good plan at the knees. I believe it was the great philosopher Mike Tyson who said, “Everybody’s got a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” I may be paraphrasing; it was hard to understand him because he was getting his tongue tattooed at the time.
Anyway, these complaints against Bush and Obama are symptoms of a disturbing, and worsening, tendency among Americans to see the government as the all-knowing, all-seeing solution to every problem. They’re putting government in the place of God, and so they’re waiting on government’s guidance and permission before they do anything, or they’re doing nothing at all while they wait on government to swoop in, smite the evil, and rescue the righteous.
When they end up not being God, government understandably suffers a lot of blow-back. But as Tunku Varadarajan points out, they brought it on themselves:
Once you set out, as a president or a party, to propagate a message that the government has (or is) the panacea for all ills, then failure to deal with an ill leads to your being hoist with your own panacea-petard. If the entire range of your political program rests on the message that the government is the problem-solver, the deliverer from evil, the Messiah, the curative current that runs through our civitas, then a failure to solve a problem, to deliver from evil—or from an evil oil spill—leads to consternation, bafflement, and profound disillusion in the ranks of the faithful.