The wrong lessons learned

THE WRONG LESSONS LEARNED…. Yesterday, on “Fox News Sunday,” Bill Kristol made a comment about the BP oil spill disaster that seems pretty common of late, but which seems relatively backwards to me.

The Weekly Standard editor suggested there was no reason to hold President Obama “personally accountable” for the disaster and spill fallout, but Kristol nevertheless sees this as “a blow” to “Obamaism.” He added, “I mean, it’s a blow to the notion that the federal government, a notion that he’s deeply identified with, is sort of omnipotent.”

If this seems kind of familiar, it’s because George Will said something very similar two weeks ago. The president, Will said, is “being unfairly blamed,” but since Obama told the country that government could solve problems, and the government hasn’t solved this problem, Will said the lesson of the disaster is that government isn’t really to be trusted after all.

At face value, the argument is baseless, to the extent that conservative pundits are beating a straw man — neither President Obama nor anyone else in Democratic politics has ever argued that the federal government is “sort of omnipotent.”

But more importantly, while Kristol, Will, and others on the right see this entire ordeal as a vindication of their political philosophy, I tend to think they have it backwards. After all, what does the conservative worldview tout as a matter of course? That nearly every area of public policy should feature less government, more private enterprise, fewer regulations, and less federal oversight.

And in this case, we tried that. It was the guiding principle of the last decade, when oil companies were effectively told they could do as they pleased, without pesky federal mandates and oversight. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the result of Kristol’s vision of “Obamaism” gone awry; it’s the opposite — the idea that if we just get government out of the way, everything will be fine looks patently ridiculous right now.

Indeed, notice that the basis for much of the right’s criticism of the administration right now is, paradoxically, the sense that the government isn’t doing enough. This from the crowd that doesn’t want government doing much of anything, ever.

Conservatives, then, are learning all the wrong lessons. It’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.