The Futility of Big Government

The old adage was always: “A conservative is a liberal who was mugged by reality.” In just a year, President Obama has been mugged not just by reality, but his own belief in the infallibility of big government.

Disappointment from President Obama’s cult-like following is growing, and it’s easy to see why. It was two years ago this month that Obama uttered his infamous statement on the importance of his election in relation to the environment. “The moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” was the phrase Obama used to describe his own nomination.

In a bit of irony even the most humorless should appreciate, Obama’s administration is now mired in the muck of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The man who promised to roll back the rising tide is now swallowed up in the suffocating black crude that’s seeping across the Gulf coast. The man who was supposed to change the climate can’t do anything about it.

However, the problem isn’t just the leak, or Obama’s fix-all campaign rhetoric, but the expectations of the populace. The lesson is that government has its limits, even a seemingly all-powerful entity such as the White House. It is a lesson many are unwilling to learn, even as Washington sits by hopelessly as oil continues to spew throughout the Gulf.

Megan McArdle described this bizarre perception of Obama and government best when she pointed out then-candidate Obama’s habit of blaming of Bush for the state of the economy and trouble on the warfront. Sure, presidents have varying degrees of competency, but to presume that all problems are fixable from the bully pulpit is to deny reality.

Volumes could be written about why voters accept this meme — the idea that a magic man can fix disasters, ups and downs in the economy, or the usual travails of life. This nonsense of an omnipotent government hit its stride immediately after 9/11. A refusal to believe that a massive terrorist attack could take place without the government knowing about it resounded in a significant portion of the population. These expectations carried to Hurricane Katrina, where it was construed that the president didn’t “care enough.”

This belief played a central role in Obama’s election. “Yes, we can” isn’t so much a mantra of individualism but of, “Yes, the government can for you.” It has also raised expectations and doomed Obama’s presidency in the short term. His own results can’t match the expectations of his base, an electorate dying for any real economic improvement, and the promises of his own rhetoric.

The reaction to this new reality has been unsurprising, if not predictable. In a bit of cognitive dissonance, Spike Lee (who happens to be a conspiracist in his own right with respect to Hurricane Katrina) implored Obama to get angry, as if a few choice words on a teleprompter could suck millions of gallons of crude back beneath the earth’s crust. This led to Obama dropping a certain three-letter-word on a television interview during one of the more ridiculous presidential moments in recent memory. Most realize political rhetoric and results are two different matters, but to the true believers, and the regular Joes expecting the president to live up to his own promises, it’s important.

Obama’s history-making election may have made for a longer grace period and his soaring oratory and media image may have bought him time, but it has become apparent after a year and a half that Obama is underachieving by his own lofty and impossible standards. There was the unemployment numbers, promised never to cross 8-percent, which now has hovered near 10-percent for the better part of a year. Not to mention the special interest frenzy that preceded the passage of an unpopular health care bill and the supposedly needed stimulus package, which has done nothing but raise our debt.

Cap that with the Gulf spill, and it is no wonder the electorate is growing restless. Restless enough where some are taking the Obama base to task. “Stopping the waves is a job for Neptune, not a president. Obama cannot raise his trident and force the oil back into the hole. There are things he can do, but they’re a lot less impressive. Granted, Obama’s early campaign for president cultivated a myth of his godlike powers. And some still seem to buy into the magic narrative,” said Rasmussen Reports’ Froma Harrop. Granted, but it’s important to note Obama’s myth was of his own making. A myth that’s drowning slowly in the Gulf and taking his presidency down with it. Hopefully this is a lesson to future candidates on what they should promise, and a lesson to voters on what they should demand and expect.

  • Lfox328

    This is childlike, and, to be honest, childish thinking. Somehow, a parental figure can make everything better.

    Obama may or may not have a stealth agenda, but what he is, is a mediocre executive in a time that requires a great executive.

  • von Starkermann

    Obama was in way over his head when he took office the first day. He still is in over his head. Did anyone really think any different. Obama never passed any meaningful legislation, never was the head of any committee, and never produced anything or worked in private industry. What do you expect out of a PIT(President in training)?

  • Jim C.

    It is true, as the article says, that government has limits. That this is somehow Obama's fault or something he is naive about is doubtful.

    Not that I blame anyone for trying to make political hay out of the spectacle but we need to remember that when hurricanes hit the eastern seaboard in the 90s, government response was swift and effective. In short, Big Government worked; the agency charged with bringing relief during a natural disaster did its job very well.

    Now we have a man-made disaster we were assured could never happen, whose owners refused to maintain properly and who lied about its extent in the critical first days. Obama should have been on them like stink from the get-go–except we are dependent on them to "fix" this.

    • bostonian

      If Obama can do anything and does not is criminal. If he can not do something that is proof of the goverment weakness. Is not it?

      • Jim C.

        Obama cannot prevent a meteor from striking the earth. Is that proof that government is weak?

        • netizen

          Indeed that CAN be prevented with nowadays' technology. First study where will it fall. If it's not worth to prevent, let it be. Otherwise might hit it with a rocket to change its trajectory and make it fall in a harmless place. Or just breaking it up helps limit the damage and lessens the force of impact.

          • Jim C.

            OK, so Will Smith and Ben Affleck go shoot down the meteor….Therefore government is powerful???

  • Tanstaafl

    Put a small scale thermo-nuclear device near the well-head and detonate. It will seal the opening on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Please don't talk about radiation – the well head is 5000 feet below sea level. Any ecological damage is minor compared to the current oil spill.

  • george rennit

    The real culprits in this are the environmentalists and the legislaters that do their bidding. Oil is plentiful in regions that can be drilled with no negative impact to the environment. Whats it going to take to get us out from under the oppressive climate that environmentalists have been allowed to impose on us.
    As far as Obama, I am turning the page on this guy. The best we can do until 2012, is treat him like the oil spill. Contain him and hope that by the end of his four years, we will be able to stop the bleeding of our nation.

  • Juan Gamboa

    I thought, from the Left's rants, that having an inexperienced President was somehow better than an inexperienced Vice-President. Where is Biden in all of this?

    • Vic

      the less Biden opens his mouth the better off we all are!

  • Samurai Hit Woman

    Maybe one of the reasons Obama has dragged his feet by refusing help from other countries, as well as overseeing a slow government response, in dealing with the oil in the gulf was he wanted the ecological devastation to be great.

    Which would create a crisis for him to push his agenda forward. That is, damage to the ecology would enable him to shut all US drilling down all the while other countries help
    themselves to the gulf’s oil supply.


    • Jim C.

      Yes. Obama wants total destruction. Why not? makes it easier than trying to look at any facts.

    • rib/eve

      You know I hate to even say this because I am not a conspiracy type person, but. . .

      Coincidences aren't usually coincidences. Cap' n Trade was sputtering and then we had viola – our FIRST oil rig blow up!!??? in the Gulf of Mexico. Kind of in your face isn't it?

      And frankly not beyond this group in Washington.

  • Jim C.

    'Big Government' goes by another name, you know: "The Constitution of the United States."

    • MaxDaddy

      No, "We the People" go by the Constitution. Big Government goes by Progressivism.

    • gpcase

      No, Jim, the Constitution established a "limited" government, a Republic – in order to protect life, liberty and property. "Big" is commonly understood to mean unlimited, interventionist and expensive.

      Progressives have long sought to limit the people's liberty with an unlimited, cradle-to-grave government. To the uninformed, your idea that big government is a manifestation of the Constitution would lead them to believe anything under that title is a-okay. This is the deception that I had to put up with in the media, in college and from my miseducated friends and neighbors for years. But with the internet, Fox News, AM radio and now Tea Parties, a new civil rights movement grows, but this one is not about equality, but liberty and individual rights.

      • Jim C.

        This is a huge country with a massively diverse population. There is, quite simply, no such thing as "small government"–hasn't been since the Federalists won. Complaints against "big government," therefore, smack of disingenuity.

        As you rightly point out, effective government is to be desired. But in rebuttal I suggest, conversely, that "big" does not necessarily mean "ineffective." The danger in your examples is when Government gets too cozy with the industries it is supposed to be regulating.

        • rib/eve

          Well we have big and ineffective

  • gpcase

    Jim C, you confuse effective government with big government. An effective government would not have forced oil drilling so far off shore that repair work is hampered by the depth of the water. An effective govt. would not accept poorly designed disaster plans from oil companies because the Mineral/Mining agency is filled with people with conflicts of interest (environmental or industrial) or are simply incompetent. An effective govt. would have accepted help from foreign countries, including the Saudis, the Dutch, the Brits and others when it was offered in week 1. An effective govt. would have bypassed their Byzantine regulations and allowed berms to be built and booms to be deployed more quickly, as was repeatedly requested.

    Big government however has badly handled this because it is corrupt, inefficient, unaccountable, uncoordinated and it's very size and scope leaves the public with the false impression that bigger is better as well as the fact that corporations understand that regulatory compliance provides sufficient liability, which is one more example of moral hazard. As Mr. Jefferson said: the government that governs least, governs best.

  • Len Powder

    Obama's mistake is that he thought he was God, as in "Let there be light!" He thought his sheer eloquence and self-assurance would transform the nation and the world. His narcissim has now been exposed as has his utter incompetence and his lack of even the most ordinary credentials of leadership. Those of us who understood from the beginning that he was a fraud and devoid of any substance and reality are now vindicated. Obama will only get worse as time passes and so will this country until he is finally booted out of office and returned to the land of mediocrity where he belongs.

  • badaboo

    Obama's think's he's God ? Narcisist ? …Bunk /opposition rhetoric /totally useless . What happened in the Gulf is a result of the culture existing down there , fisherman , oil men , oil companies , government regulators , judgesd ….all in a culture of cronyism . Lose a job here get a job there . Regulations unenforced , indeed credible engineers ignored , warnings discarded . No plan for disater in place , or even considered. Naaaa we dont need more regulation ……now that a disaster has struck , and the truth comkes trickiling out about the warnings ignored even by their own workers …it all came down to money over safety … BLAME IT ON OBAMA . Brilliant .

  • Dennis X

    Please people, you teabaggers cried about LESS government, you cried about DRILL BABY DRILL, you put down the people of new orleans and you worship corporations and oil , the President should let these red states die, they didn't vote for him , screw them , (ex. Fla.) the same thing bush did to california in 2000. Grow up and stop crying.

  • badaboo

    So now that Obama 'sa threatening BP , demanding an escrow account to pay for the havoc they have wreaked , to SAVE MONEY , NOW the Pres .is being accused of attempting to 'nationalize oil companies , by the idiots on talk radio . Maybe he should just let them off the hook like Exxon , who never paid 1/500th of the original lawsuit , as the damage it did in Alaska is STILL evident to this day .Every time I think of heard the dumbest of the dumb in the way of these ridiculous accusation , someone evn DUMBER spouts off . Now that the e-mail communications of BP arer coming to the surface , they are indicating nothing less than egregious malfeasance and utter disregard for lives or the environment , they should put the whole damn company in escrow until they pay for what THEY DID . And that ain't "nationalizing oil companies " .

  • badaboo


  • Travis

    Dennis you have to eventually face facts — America needs less government. What we're doing is unsustainable, period. The interest rates on our national debt are close to being higher than our GDP. That is a definite tipping point that will have a devastating impact on our economy and way of life. If we don't want to end up like Greece, or any of the struggling countries in Europe for that matter, then we need a limited style of government. Now this is not to say that the government should give up on the core responsibilities that it has. If anything by prioritizing our funding then we can make sure the American government will be accountable and efficient at those responsibilities.

    One of those responsibilities is national safety. Right now this oil spill is a matter of national safety, and Obama is showing incredible incompetence at handling the situation. It's not just conservatives that think this, James Carville and Keith Olbermann have repeatedly slammed Obama for his handling of the crisis.

  • badaboo

    LOL…"incredible incompetence " ??? What does ANYONE know , on how to stop and/or cleanup such a massive spill ? The Oilmen ? You know , the experts who said they could drill at such depths safely ? WHO are you kidding travis ? There are no experts in the industry . There are the scientists and engineers who have been ignored , they had the knowledge of HOW TO PREVENT this sort of thing . Those were the people who supplied information to theFederal Regulators who did not do their job . But now that the disaster is unleashed , even the experts are at a loss as to how to stop the leak nor how to mitigate the environmental and economical damage ..
    The consaervatives are the ones who whined about regulation and government , thus regulation was lax , science and engineering scoffed at , Who cares about Carville and Olberman ? They're not scientists nor engineers , they have no answers , they're nothing more than partisan political hacks , no better or worse than their opposite counterparts .
    That bit about "prioritizing funding " is a bunch of tripe man , what the hell are you talking about ???

  • badaboo

    No disaster occurs because of one single cause , they are ALWAYS preceeded by several mistakes . In this case those mistakes were known , and were allowed to continue due to watered down regulation , lax enforcement , political cronyism , and a way too comfortable relationship between the oil companies and the politicians of those states involved . NOW , the issue of safety is raised ???? AFTER the loss of life and a catastrophic economic and environmental disaster
    Man you oughta stop wasting your time trying to bash Bash the Pres . and PRAY that someone figures out a way to shut this thing down , until then any cleanup will be futile..

    THAT is where the immediate focus should ber, and what the Pres. is trying to do . By turning to the alleged experts at BP , finding only that they are not , and turning to the oil industry itself and finding that IT is not either .

  • Travis


    Alright I suppose I'll take this bit by bit… Don't take offense, just a good ole fashioned debate.

    "What does ANYONE know, on how to stop and/or cleanup such a massive spill" – Fair enough, we're definitely in uncharted territory. However, it seems to me that rather than take care of the problem BP is trying to find a way to keep the oil well operational in the future. There actually is a plan drafted in the 90's by the coast guard that could get rid of an estimated 95% of the oil by burning it out. Of course, then the oil would be gone and BP is trying to salvage as much of it as they can.

    "The conservatives are the ones who whined about regulation and government , thus regulation was lax" – while it's true that whining about government regulation is more of a conservative agenda, are you really trying claim that big oil only gets its breaks from the G.O.P.? Both the democrat and republican establishment are in the pockets of big oil, BP was one of Obama's biggest campaign contributors.

    "Who cares about Carville and Olberman?" – Got me there…

    "That bit about "prioritizing funding" – It's just common sense. The less complicated something is the smoother it runs. Trying to run a government that has 50,000 responsibilities is by nature more complex and difficult than running one with only 15,000. My point was that if the federal government was more streamlined and efficient then we could focus our efforts on its actual constitutional responsibilities ie: national defense, border security, etc… The fact is though that we cannot keep spending money at this level. Don't give me that crap about the stimulus being temporary either, we've been spending more money than we take in way before Obama came around. Obama had no qualms railing on Bush for his deficits, I'd like to see him start paying attention to his own.

    "Man you oughta stop wasting your time trying to bash Bash the Pres . and PRAY that someone figures out a way to shut this thing down , until then any cleanup will be futile.." – Not sure what your point is here, can I not do both? Please believe I want this situation to be fixed A.S.A.P. I'm not rooting against Obama but I call em like I see em. To me his presidency is barely a change from the last administration, and frankly that disappoints me. I'm not a scientist or an engineer, I'll be the first to tell you I don't know how to fix this situation. That being said I don't have a right to be frustrated with our president when he specifically says that the buck stops with him?