Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The government can't do everything

With all this talk about whether or not the oil spill in the Gulf will be "Obama's Katrina," I'm struck by the widely accepted belief that somehow it is up to the president to fix such a disaster. In a way, Obama is suffering for the perception that he's supported his entire political life that, when there is a crisis, the government, particularly the federal government should be the one to rescue us.

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don't remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill sparking all sorts of calls for what President Bush was going to do to fix the problem. But now we seem to readily accept that the president has omnipotent powers to address all sorts of problems. As Gene Healy writes, those on the right and the left are looking to Obama much as his daughter seems to be doing - expecting Daddy to fix the hole.
"Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?" 11-year-old Malia demanded Thursday morning while the president was shaving. Poor President Obama: even his kids won't give him a break about the Gulf oil spill.

Tough. It's hard to feel sorry for the "Yes We Can" candidate, who got the job by stoking the juvenile expectation that there's a presidential solution to everything from natural disasters to spiritual malaise.

But the adults among us ought to worry about a political culture that reacts to every difficulty by screaming "Save us, Superpresident!"
Those who screech for the federal government to be taking over the efforts to, as Obama fatuously ordered, "plug the damn hole" don't seem to realize that the government doesn't have the knowledge or technology to cap a hole in deep ocean water. Healy rightly claimed that the public has taken the approach that, if there is a problem, the federal government must be able to fix it in a manner reminiscent of the running joke from the BBC's comedy "Yes, Minister:"
"Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it!"
Mark Steyn evokes the legend of King Canute trying to prove to his fawning subjects that even a king does not have the power to command the waves. Despite Barack Obama's rhetoric that implies his presence in our politics has that sort of power, he is not that omnipotent.
Two years ago this week, then-Senator Obama declared that his very nomination as Democratic-party presidential candidate (never mind his election, or inauguration) marked the moment when “our planet began to heal” and “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” “Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute,” remarked Charles Krauthammer the other day, “you mustn’t be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.”
So while Republicans are happy if the BP oil leak tarnishes Obama's poll numbers, they're just feeding into this perception that the federal government can address all and every crisis that erupts. Perhaps there are things that the government could have done more expeditiously like approve the sand berms that Governor Jindal wanted to build or to have realized earlier what a disaster this was going to be, but conservatives should be leery about buying into the storyline that the president of the United States is capable of mandating perfect responses to every sort of crisis that occurs.