Your Uncle Sam has spent 100 years turning himself into Jabba the Hut

Blame Obama. Why Not?

Daniel Henninger says that a government that gets too big is not going to be able to do big things when we really need it.

Daniel Henninger
The Wall Street Journal

The left and the media knee-capped the Bush presidency for not making Hurricane Katrina go away fast enough. So now, like a village feud in ancient Sicily, the right and its media are knee-capping the Obama presidency for not making the Gulf’s spilled oil go away fast enough. Boo hoo.

Are we supposed to say that the criticism of Mr. Obama is unfair? Sorry. The permanent smackdown that is now U.S. politics has devolved into a zero-sum proposition whenever anything bad happens in American life—an oil spill, a terrorist bomb in Times Square, a financial meltdown, a mining disaster.

It works like this: If you occupy a position of leadership or responsibility in public or private life, your thought process in the face of disaster now runs rationally in this order: 1) Am I going to get blamed for this? 2) Is there anything we can do to help? 3) Will we get tagged if something goes wrong with that effort?

The answer of course to (1) and (3) is that you will get blamed for days on end, no matter what the facts are. If under some ancient compulsion of honor you admit some culpability, the plaintiffs lawyers will pillage your assets, and a political-media bonfire will burn down what’s left of your reputation. Why go there? In the pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey world we occupy now, the political and legal price of taking ownership is too high.

The answer to (2)—can we help?—is a more interesting case, especially if we limit it to the idea that when a big disaster strikes the government should come forward.

It is obvious that the Obama White House initially wanted to put distance between itself and that oil spill. And why not? What were they supposed to do? But in a world of political-media blood sport, the politicians understand that their survival means they have to throw someone to the wolves. Thus, ahead of having any clue what caused the failure of the BP oil rig, Mr. Obama’s interior secretary and his press secretary said the government’s contribution would be to “keep a boot on the neck” of BP.

There’s a valid reason why their main contribution will be to keep Uncle Sam’s boot on BP’s neck: The people who live inside the government know that what government can do is in fact rather limited.

This op-ed, with video, continues at WSJ.

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