Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hyperbole Reigns in America

What's the best advice to follow in a crisis? "Stay calm". When unexpected things happen, the situation is often confused and unclear. Under these circumstances it's easy to misjudge what has really happened and what should be done. Consequently, we often make rash decisions that actually make things worse or make us look foolish. We'd be much better off letting the dust settle and then acting rationally to resolve whatever the problem really is. Americans need to accept this simple truth and discount the hyperbole that we often attach to every unexpected event.

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a case in point. There are 3,400 oil platforms in the gulf, hovering over the 35,000 wells that they drain. During the past 20 years no serious accidents have occurred there and major hurricanes have not destroyed a single platform. But, accidents are inevitable when large numbers of complex machines are used to accomplish difficult tasks; we should have expected something of this nature to happen sometime. When it does, the important things are the short term actions taken to resolve the problem and the long term impact of what has happened. Instead of dealing calmly with this accident, our media, politicians, and interest groups turned the event into a circus of rash statements and hasty decisions. With many mitigation activities in progress, it's likely that most of these reactions will be found to be dead wrong. Let's check back on this in a year.

The same sad truth applies to the two other major events of the past week or so, the lone terrorist car bomb in NYC and the stock market's reaction to Greece's debt situation. Both situations should have been expected, and in both cases the real impact is likely to be minimal. The moment by moment coverage and over-reactions probably caused more problems than they solved. As Churchill said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." We actually have excellent security services and effective economic backstops; it's just that we'd rather panic than allow them to work.

Lastly, I can't help but take on the Obama issue. From the screams I hear from the right, Obama is destroying the country. From the real news, I see that the market is back (despite this temporary setback), housing and car sales are up, manufacturing employment is coming back, the Iraq war is winding down on schedule, foreign policy is steady and rather uneventful (that's good), and Obama seems to be pretty comfortable in his job. Bush II left him a real bag of snakes, and he's coped pretty well with the mess. With a couple of years to go before having to run again, I'd give Obama pretty good odds of being a two term president. So much for the screamers; there's plenty of time to judge whether or not they make any sense at all.

We need to calm down and dampen the hyperbole. There's far too much noise from the right, the left, and the media in general. Life does go on, and problems generally get solved without the world coming to an end. I have a lot of trust in the ability of people and governments to do the right thing over time, even though there are always hiccups now and again. Screaming and overstating seldom add any value to the problem solving process, and we should not accept it when we see and hear it. Relax, America. It's going to be OK if we just keep our heads calm and focused.


Dave said...

I'm not as sanguine, I wish I were, but I'm not.

Mike Capron said...

Let me add a hearty AMEN!

(Although I do wish Obama was more successful in his legislative agenda. I read an insightful commentary talking about how Chicago-style politics don't work in Washington.)

Ron Davison said...

Calm leads to such a drop in viewers, perhaps further proof that what is good for business is not always good for the country.

Anonymous said...

We're doomed. I think the situation is far worse than you think it is.

I'm living for today, and when the inevitable catastrophe comes I'll deal with it then and find a way to be happy.

Dave K said...

I haven't been sleeping well - I keep having dreams of returning to the USA at the end of June and how stressful that will be. :)

Funny thing is, working in Cambodia has made me much more optimistic about what is possible.

Or maybe I'm just equanimous - like Thomas? Figuring I'll deal with it come what may? :)