Thomas Frank ended his list of questions regarding the oil spill by stating that, absent answers from the right, “for now, we are all liberals” (“Laissez-Faire Meets the Oil Spill,” The Tilting Yard, June 2). This conception defines “liberal” as the presumption that government is separate from citizenry, and citizenry separate from leadership.
Frank is correct in noting that when disaster strikes sheep tend to look towards their shepherd. It is tempting to solicit government apologies and centrally-organized hair donations to sop up the spill. It was not so long ago that we sheep voted for change. This disastrous spill presents an opportunity for a new kind of shepherd.
Just this week the Obama Administration presented conflicting messages as slippery as oil itself, a contradiction that permits BP the chance to exploit government dollars rather than bear the responsibility for its actions. It makes no sense for a shepherd to “assume full responsibility” for the incentives that caused a disaster even while the shepherd’s administration serves oil execs with subpoenas.
Indeed, Frank characterizes “liberalism” as the urge to find somebody to blame. Finger-pointing does not lead to solutions. The urge to panic will not absorb thousands of tons of spilled oil. Blame has not catapulted Detroit to economic rebound. No shepherd can protect children from being left behind.
Perhaps in moments of uncertainty we all are indeed temporarily “liberals.” These are the moments that separate the sheep from the shepherds. It is in these moments that those shepherds among us must stand up and focus on the solution. No amount of blame can substitute for true responsibility and leadership, as “illiberal” as those concepts may be.