The Sound and the Fury

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“Never let a crisis go to waste”—a watchword of the present administration—finds its deepest, as it were, meaning in the offshore oil rig crisis. There, the idiocy of modern politics impatiently waits discovery.

We’re sure to find it. The idiocy of modern politics is that politics has less to do with solving problems than with making racket to cover up the fact that politics rarely solves problems.

We learned from Robert Gibbs this week that President Obama’s jaw was “clenched” as he considered in meetings a problem—the blowout—that he didn’t know how to address. Lack of understanding (e.g., health care reform) rarely silences a modern politician. Therefore the government is:

1) Dispatching Attorney General Eric Holder to see if he can turn up any criminal charges to lodge against British Petroleum, among others, for conspiring to hammer its stock price (down $18 billion as of Tuesday) and its international reputation. (We learn this the same day we learn the Justice Department’s inspector general says the department has no “policies or plans” for dealing with an “incident” involving weapons of mass destruction.)

2) Putting forth Colin Powell to suggest military or other government intervention in the matter.

3) Refusing (never mind the cost in lost time) to expand offshore drilling prior to a full investigation of the present mess.

4) Shouldering BP out of daily news briefings on the evident assumption that the people working hardest on the problem have the least to say about it.

5) Asserting (environmental adviser Carol Browner) that “We’ve”—i.e., the administration—”always been in charge” of the plugging job.

Though probably I’ve missed nine or 10 or 36 additional indications of the administration’s outstanding competence in battling BP while BP battles the blowout.

Now none of this—especially unloosing the posse—makes a bit of sense when it comes to getting the well plugged. Never mind. We’re not so much into plugging the well, up Washington way, as we’re into muscle-flexing, chest-pounding, and ominous yells of the sort Lex Barker might have emitted in his Tarzanic prime. That ought to jazz up morale out there in the Gulf, where the would-be pluggers plug on.

It’s mostly sound and fury; which figures, as 21st-century politics is mostly about sound and fury for the sake, generally speaking, of self-promotion (any recent U.S. presidents come to mind?) and sticking it to the opposition.

That humanity has never lived without politics, and likely won’t get the chance to try, is the peripheral point. The point that shakes its gory locks at BP and the rest of us is that, on the ever-more-dismal record, politics has about as much to do with the resolution of human concerns as a double cheeseburger has to do with eternal life. Eat all you want, but don’t expect much by way of enduring results.

It’s by no means clear that, with respect to the Gulf crisis, a McCain White House would have acted more compellingly than the Obama White House. (It wouldn’t have taken much.) There might have been a little less demagoguery about big, bad oil companies, but who knows? By undertaking the direction of Life and all its components, America’s assorted political gangs have guaranteed failure to one degree or another. You can’t direct Life and all its components—Life being too big, too uncertain, for that.

A rational politics, as opposed to the grind-’em-down style now in evidence, would work mainly to foster a climate of economic and social stability, wherein ordinary people, without a whole lot of poking and prodding, could work out most matters for themselves, save those of genuinely national concern; e.g., security against W.M.D.’s.

Don’t look to Congress. Last week the House voted to lift the ban on self-acknowledged gays in military service. Not for the sake of military efficiency. That would have made too much sense. Rather, for the sake of chest-pounding about the varied entitlements of supposedly excluded voters. Makes you feel all warm—when not scared out of your wits.


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