David Brooks is at it again, trying to convince us that it is fate that has brought us to this point where the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a symbol of the “nasty stasis” where trying to balance the free market and government regulation is beyond the control of any one president or corporation. He offers a lot of historical comparisons to the Iranian hostage crisis and tries to use the moderate tone that while everyone means well, sometimes things are just too much for us to handle and we must learn our humbling lesson.
Oh, crap. This passive-voice pablum about “the country’s core confusion about the role of government” is his way of backing away from the obvious conclusion that a generation’s worth of hearing that “Big Guv’ment” is the problem and the free market is the Holy Grail of freedom and roses and rainbows for the whole world is bunk. If it hadn’t been for a concerted effort on the part of the Republicans and their corporate allies to dismantle and defang any form of regulation of business since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, not to mention the complicity of Democrats who knew a good source of campaign funding when they saw it, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with, and if we were, there would be real-world consequences for those that caused them. It isn’t “stagnation” when doing everything possible to do nothing — vide the current GOP minority in Congress — is your idea of how to run a government.
The supreme irony of all of this is that when the shit really hits the fan in Detroit and Wall Street or when the oil hits the shore in Louisiana, who do you think are the loudest complainers about the inefficiency of government and who are the ones standing there with their hands out demanding instant relief in the form of cash from the Feds to fix it? Yeah, the same people who were screaming about the Tenth Amendment, states’ rights, secession, and complaining that oil-rig regulation stifles the free market and makes it tough for the “small business owners.” Yeah, I think dead birds, stinky beaches, and no tourists makes it tough, too.
What is also the most maddening thing is that once this oil spill is contained — whenever that is — we will all firmly resolve to fix the problems that caused it and make sure that it never happens again. We will learn from our mistakes and go on, confident in the knowledge that we have covered every contingency, taken every precaution, sued everybody for the damages, and we can resume our lives again. Except whatever we learn from this and whatever regulations and laws we put in place will be so watered-down and loop-holed that those with the right kind of grease can slip through it until the next time. And there’s always a next time.
We were supposed to learn from the Exxon Valdez and Hurricane Katrina and the Iranian hostage crisis and Vietnam and Watergate and Cuba and the Bay of Pigs and the Depression and Munich and any of the other hundreds of life-lessons of the past two centuries, and we rarely do. Or if we do, it’s not the right lesson.