Ed Driscoll

If You Believe There's Nothing Up My Sleeve, Then Nothing is Cool

As Byron York asks rhetorically, “If we can put a man on the moon, Mr. President, then why can’t we stop the leak?”

But we can’t put a man on the moon — at least the US government can’t for the foreseeable future. The previous US president wanted to, but President Obama said Nyet.

Rand Simberg, who has a must-read post on why “the if we can put a man on the moon” cliche is often such a facetious argument, has noted that LBJ saw the space program as a sort of latter-day TVA, using it “as a means to industrialize the South,” Simberg wrote last year.  And as Jonah Goldberg noted in Liberal Fascism, JFK’s moon program was his version of the Moral Equivalent of War, a bit of rhetorical slight of hand which has driven “progressives” since the days when William James first coined the phrase at the dawn of the 20th century.

Which dovetails into John Podhoretz’s article in the New York Post late last night on “Obama’s 9/11 envy:”

What’s most notable about 9/11 and the oil spill is how essentially different they are. One was a brilliantly conceived and diabolical act of war; the other a horrific accident that was the last thing anybody wanted to happen. One was designed to decapitate the US government and deliver a mortal blow to the world’s financial system; the other wasn’t designed at all.One was purposeful destruction intended to harm. The other is a purposeless catastrophe that was in no way intentional at all but will do great harm. One was an attack on the United States. The other was an accident.

So what on earth could the president have been thinking?

The first possibility is that there is some kind of perverse wish being expressed in these words. They have a wistful quality, as though the president wished he had a different crisis, a more popular crisis, on his hands.

Of course the fact that 9/11 would prove to be a net political benefit for George W. Bush was not the result of happenstance. It was due to the way he responded.

After a few days of discomfiting uncertainty, Bush found his voice and his purpose, delivering a series of powerful speeches that suggested a seriousness of purpose in regard to his presidential responsibilities that no one had actually expected of him.

Whatever happened afterward to shake that perspective on him in the minds of so many, the fact was that Bush had to meet the moment to secure the political advantage.

Obama has had no such moment in relation to the oil spill, because he couldn’t have. BP didn’t mean to do it and has been laboring desperately to fix what got broken. It is liable for what it did, it does not deny its own culpability, and it may itself be capsized as a result.

What the deployment of the 9/11 analogy suggests is that Obama would like to treat BP as though it were al Qaeda, at least rhetorically — a villain for him to confront on behalf of the wounded American people.

That may seem politically shrewd to Obama and his team, but it will have parlous consequences. The analogy muddies and obfuscates.

By comparing an unwanted disaster to a conscious act of war, Obama is adding an improper moral dimension to the effort to clean up the Gulf — a moral reckoning that will make it harder rather than easier to focus on the task of actually plugging the damn hole.

By likening the murder of 3,000 people and the efforts to take out the US government to a series of mistakes that added up to a catastrophe, Obama has defined evil down in a fashion that does immense violence to good sense, good taste and good leadership.

But this isn’t all that new: the left have been trying to equate environmental issues to 9/11 and the (second) Gulf War since the mid-naughts. Nearly a century ago, Freud called it displacement; about the same time that James called it the Moral Equivalent of War. You can see both at work in the Time magazine cover from mid-2008 above.

Finally, James Pethokoukis watched last night speech and watched “Obama’s clean energy pivot [go] awry.”

But that can happen when your ideology requires you to pivot more often than Tony Hawk on a slalom course:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1487475&dest=-1 width=”480″ height=”390″]

Update: And speaking of the Moral Equivalent of War, Allahpundit’s patented “Exit Question” asks, via CBS: “Now that we’ve declared war on the spill or whatever, is BP an Allied country or an Axis power? (Exit answer: Grudging ally, same as Uncle Joe!)”