If you’re one of the four-or-so frequent readers of this here blog, chances are you also occasionally check out the New York Times op-ed page. You may even know the names: Thomas “Friedman Ain’t Free” Friedman, Gail “The Colander” Collins, Nicholas “The Dark Crystal” Kristof, &c. Well, I’ve decided to devote a daily feature to these folks, by daily pointing out one line that is either awesome, funny, insightful, intelligent, ridiculous, or utterly divorced from reality. I hope you enjoy.
Today’s is from Tawmy “Friedman’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose” Friedman, who, in his column “Obama and the Oil Spill,” writes:
No, the gulf oil spill is not Obama’s Katrina. It’s his 9/11 — and it is disappointing to see him making the same mistake George W. Bush made with his 9/11.
Okay, first of all: At what point did one of the nation’s most terrible tragedies become the symbol of opportunity? As in, the only lesson of that day was how Bush squandered some kind of opportunity to turn the country around, to make some positive of it. And, that any time something happens that gives a politician an opportunity to lead on some issue, it’s “their 9/11.”
I’m sorry, but that’s outrageous. The commandment might read “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain,” but perhaps the same should apply to gigantic historical events that have only tenuous comparisons to current ones. Don’t call Bush/Obama “Hitler,” and don’t call an oil spill “Obama’s 9/11.”
Sure, Friedman’s right on many accounts in this column: we should be looking at energy alternatives, we should be investing in new technologies, and the president should be leading the way. But doesn’t taking advantage of this catastrophe to do so seem a little…opportunistic?
The truth of the matter as well is that what Friedman wants the president to do is also pretty unrealistic. Congress has no appetite for controversy on energy right now, because, yes, they did just pass a health care bill that puts their seats in jeopardy, and will be soon passing financial reform and taking up immigration. Sometimes, knowing your limits is the hallmark of good leadership, and the president does seem comfortable limiting his reaction to castigating the ones responsible and seeking new regulations on oil companies.
Regardless, Friedman overstates this moment. It’s not September 11, 2001 all over again. It’s not a moment that requires big, existential thoughts and drastic, inspiring action. It’s March 24, 1989. What’s needed is tactical and realistic thought and deliberate, surgical action.