In times of crisis, you get a public reaction that is incoherence on stilts. On the one hand, most people know that the government is not in the oil business. They don’t want it in the oil business. They know there is nothing a man in Washington can do to plug a hole a mile down in the gulf.Of course there are lots of "people" who are not incoherent in this way, but take principled positions for or against regulation and so on. But the national mood seems to be defined by a clueless, uncomprehending middle that wavers in just the way Brooks describes. Since (I think) nothing short of a world war will get most Americans to pay attention to politics in a serious way, we are stuck with the muddle, and can only hope that sensible people will be more skilled in swaying the ignorant masses than sinister sharks.
On the other hand, they demand that the president “take control.” They demand that he hold press conferences, show leadership, announce that the buck stops here and do something. They want him to emote and perform the proper theatrical gestures so they can see their emotions enacted on the public stage.
They want to hold him responsible for things they know he doesn’t control. Their reaction is a mixture of disgust, anger, longing and need. It may not make sense. But it doesn’t make sense that the country wants spending cuts and doesn’t want cuts, wants change and doesn’t want change.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010