Bret Stephens had a brilliant piece last week in the Wall Street Journal. Using an old bit from South Park, he provides the single best explanation for Obama’s policy initiatives I have seen in print. It was good enough to grab in it’s entirety:
Sometimes it takes “South Park” to explain life’s deeper mysteries. Like the logic of the Obama administration’s policy proposals.
Consider the 1998 “Gnomes” episode — possibly surpassing Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” as the classic defense of capitalism — in which the children of South Park, Colo., get a lesson in how not to run an enterprise from mysterious little men who go about stealing undergarments from the unsuspecting and collecting them in a huge underground storehouse.
What’s the big idea? The gnomes explain:
“Phase One: Collect underpants.
“Phase Two: ?
“Phase Three: Profit.”
Lest you think there’s a step missing here, that’s the whole point. (“What about Phase Two?” asks one of the kids. “Well,” answers a gnome, “Phase Three is profits!”) This more or less sums up Mr. Obama’s speech last week on Guantanamo, in which the president explained how he intended to dispose of the remaining detainees after both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly against bringing them to the U.S.
The president’s plan can briefly be described as follows. Phase One: Order Guantanamo closed. Phase Two: ? Phase Three: Close Gitmo!
Granted, this is an abbreviated exegesis of his speech, which did explain how some two-thirds of the detainees will be tried by military commissions or civilian courts, or repatriated to other countries. But on the central question of the 100-odd detainees who can neither be tried in court nor released one searches in vain for an explanation of exactly what the president intends to do.
Now take the administration’s approach to the Middle East. Phase One: Talk to Iran, Syria, whoever. Phase Two: ? Phase Three: Peace!
In this case, the administration seems to think that diplomacy, like aspirin, is something you take two of in the morning to take away the pain. But as Boston University’s Angelo Codevilla notes in his book, “Advice to War Presidents,” diplomacy “can neither create nor change basic intentions, interests, or convictions. . . . To say, ‘We’ve got a problem. Let’s try diplomacy, let’s sit down and talk’ abstracts from the important questions: What will you say? And why should anything you say lead anyone to accommodate you?”
Ditto for Mr. Obama’s approach to nuclear weapons. In a speech last month in Prague, right after North Korea had illegally tested a ballistic missile, Mr. Obama promised a new nonproliferation regime, along with “a structure in place that ensures when any nation [breaks the rules], they will face consequences.” Whereupon the U.N. Security Council promptly failed to muster the votes for a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s launch.
Now Kim Jong Il has tested another nuke, and we’re back at the familiar three-step. Phase One: Propose a “structure.” . . .
It was also in his Prague speech that Mr. Obama repeated his pledge to “confront climate change by ending the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, by tapping the power of new sources of energy like the wind and sun.”
Never mind that neither the wind nor the sun are new sources of energy. It so happens that the U.S. gets about 2.3% of its energy resources from “renewable” resources of the kind the president advocates while fossil fuels account for about 70%. The reason for this, alas, has nothing to do with the greed of the oil majors. But it has much to do with something known as “energy density”: Crude oil has almost three times as much of it as switchgrass, supposedly the Holy Grail of our green future. A related problem is that heat invariably dissipates, meaning that it will always be difficult to turn diffuse sources of energy, like wind, into concentrated ones.
In Gnome-speak, then, Mr. Obama’s energy policy goes something like this: Phase One: Inaugurate the era of “green” energy. Phase Two: Overturn the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Phase Three: Carbon neutrality!
Take any number of Mr. Obama’s other initiatives. Rescue Detroit? Phase One: Set a national mileage standard for passenger cars of 39 miles per gallon and force auto makers to make the kind of cars that drove them to bankruptcy in the first place.
Reduce the deficit? Phase One: Approve $3.5 trillion in government stimulus, and then await the mythical Keynesian multiplier.
Pay for a $1.2 trillion health-care reform? Phase One: scrounge around for about $60 billion in new “sin tax” revenue.
Actually, we can easily guess how Mr. Obama intends to make up the difference on this last item: To wit, by taxing health benefits. Taxes, subsidies funded by taxes, regulations and mandates will also fill in many (though not all) of the other blanks. Underpants gnomes: meet Phase Two. Say, what happened to profits?