Thuggery is unattractive. Ineffective thuggery even more so. Which may be one reason so many Americans have been reacting negatively to the response of Barack Obama and his administration to BP's gulf oil spill.
Take Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's remark that he would keep his "boot on the neck" of BP, which brings to mind George Orwell's definition of totalitarianism as "a boot stamping on a human face -- forever." Except that Salazar's boot hasn't gotten much in the way of results yet.
Or consider Obama's undoubtedly carefully considered statement to Matt Lauer that he was consulting with experts "so I know whose ass to kick." Attacking others is a standard campaign tactic when you're in political trouble, and certainly BP, which appears to have taken unwise shortcuts in the gulf, is an attractive target.
But you don't always win arguments that way. The Obama White House gleefully took on Dick Cheney on the issue of terrorist interrogations. It turned out that more Americans agreed with Cheney's stand, despite his low poll numbers, than Obama's.
Then there is Obama's decision to impose a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the gulf. This penalizes companies with better safety records than BP's and will result in many advanced drilling rigs being sent to offshore oil fields abroad.
The justification offered was an Interior Department report supposedly "peer reviewed" by "experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering." But it turned out the drafts the experts saw didn't include any recommendation for a moratorium. Eight of the cited experts have said they oppose the moratorium as more economically devastating than the oil spill and "counterproductive" to safety.
This was blatant dishonesty by the administration, on an Orwellian scale. In defense of a policy that has all the earmarks of mindless panic, that penalizes firms and individuals guilty of no wrongdoing and that will worsen rather than improve our energy situation. Ineffective thuggery.
And what about the decision not to waive the Jones Act, which bars foreign-flag vessels from coming to the aid of the gulf cleanup? The Bush administration promptly waived it after Katrina in 2005. The Obama administration hasn't and claims unconvincingly that, gee, there aren't really any foreign vessels that could help.