In his (always excellent) column yesterday, James Taranto noted that, earlier this month, President Obama was calling small-government conservatives hypocrites for expecting the government to lead in the Gulf oil spill issue.
In an interview with Politico, the president said: "I think it's fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big-government overregulation and wasteful spending."
The president also implied that anti-big government types such as tea party activists were being hypocritical on the issue.
"Some of the same folks who have been hollering and saying 'do something' are the same folks who, just two or three months ago, were suggesting that government needs to stop doing so much," Obama said. "Some of the same people who are saying the president needs to show leadership and solve this problem are some of the same folks who, just a few months ago, were saying this guy is trying to engineer a takeover of our society through the federal government that is going to restrict our freedoms."
Got that? If you didn't support Obama's effort to take over the health-care system, you're a hypocrite if you expect him to lead in a crisis, and the oil spill is the fault of the minority party in Congress for its hypothetical opposition that hypothetically deterred Obama from taking hypothetical preventive measures.
Obama makes it clear that he has no idea at all what the Tea Partiers are all about (or he does, and feigns ignorance to make some political points). Small government types are actually more correctly labeled "right-sized government" types. It just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily.
Our Constitution enumerates the powers of government, and was written with a particular role of government in mind. Our Founding Fathers, understanding man's fallen nature as revealed in the Bible and seeking to restrain the inevitable power grab that all governments throughout history had tended towards, tried to restrain the beast while still providing enough power to do the job it was intended to do.
And so the Tea Partiers seek to restore government to that role and restraint. It so happens that this proper size of government is quite a bit smaller than what we have now, so "smaller government" is a good enough label for now. And the health care takeover is just the latest and most blatant attempt to "super-size" this beast.
But comparing opposition to the health care bill with criticism of the federal government's handling of the Gulf oil spill is like comparing apples with prime numbers. One is not what our Constitution intended (and some are making the case that it doesn't allow it at all), especially requiring all citizens to purchase something and penalize them if they don't. The other is an interstate crisis that the federal government is specifically for.
In this case, Obama has been dithering while Louisiana tried to get booms or barrier islands to block the oil. He didn't use a well-tested and very effective method to clean things up early on. He turned down offers of help from 17 countries. He's used this disaster to push for ethanol subsidies that have been panned by both Republicans and Democrats alike for, among other things, shrinking the food supply in poor countries.
Are those of us "small government" types hypocritical to suggest we get leadership from our President in a time of crisis? No, we're not, and either the President knows this but is willing to use this situation to score political points, or he's hopelessly ignorant about his critics.
In the meantime, we're stuck with a community organizer in the Oval Office who won't or can't or doesn't know how to lead. BP deserves what it gets (and likely more) as the fallout from this spill continues, but President Obama is likely to be protected by his party and what supporters he still has left. (Hey, when you've lost James Carville, you've lost a lot of the Left.) It's a teachable moment. Is the President in class?
Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.