In the olden days, we learned in school the folly of King Canute who sat on the seashore and ordered the tide to stop coming in, but all that happened was that he got wet.

The real story

Canute had learned that his flattering courtiers claimed he was “So great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back”. Now Canute was not only a religious man, but also a clever politician. He knew his limitations – even if his courtiers did not – so he had his throne carried to the seashore and sat on it as the tide came in, commanding the waves to advance no further. When they didn’t, he had made his point that, though the deeds of kings might appear ‘great’ in the minds of men, they were as nothing in the face of God’s power.

Fast forward a thousand years, and we saw then candidate Obama essentially proclaimed king: with the press playing the roles of flattering courtiers, praising his every move, downplaying his lack of experience and ignoring that his political stance was to the left of the American people (but was considered “mainstream” by the elites).

So when Obama proclaimed:

this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal;

few saw it as a sign of dangerous overconfidence, an overblown ego, or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris”: the pride before the fall..

So now, facing an oil spill, the same slobbering media that flattered and failed to examine Obama’s experience has turned on him. It’s all his fault.

Like the overblown politicized criticism of President Bush during Hurricane Katrina (when a million rescuers were busy saving lives, but the press ignored the heroism to paint the President as the problem), much of the criticism is political in nature.

What the President and his critics both need to learn is that some things are not under man’s control.

The spill was “man made”, but only in that something went terrible wrong that was not foreseen, (again, the result of hubris that underestimated the dangers). And let’s not forget that it killed eleven workers when it blew out. (Some of my Oklahoma patients used to work on Gulf oil platforms, so to me this is personal).

As for fixing it: The adult way is to discuss how to do it, not to point fingers. And one has to remember that snapping a finger will not solve it: It takes expertise and equipment that has to be brought in, and calculations on the best way to fix the leak. And it will not be fixed quickly or instantly, no matter how much political rhetoric is slung back and forth.

Ironically, many headlines remind us: the repairs of the leaks and the cleanup of the oil is being hampered by winds and tides.

Ironic, isn’t it?

The man whose acceptance speech implied power over the sea is now facing a disaster because, unlike King Canute, he did not recognize that he does not control the winds and the tides.

If the President learns that lesson that his power is limited, there is hope for the nation, but if not, then some of us will get out our Hillary in 2012 bumper stickers.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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