“Drill, baby, drill” is to slogans as Bull’s Blood is to wine and “subprime” is to finance. A risky proposition. Duh. It says so right there in the name. Who would care—or dare—to drink the blood of a bull? The same people who want to drill, baby, and who bet that “subprime” will suddenly translate to “above par” as soon as they pour their money down that drain of wishful thinking.
What is going on with these people? Don’t they know that “subprime” means “not good,” as in, “bad”? Or consider the similarly risky mortgages called “liar’s loans,” as if “subprime” might be a shade too subtle. Hell bent though it is on screaming toxicity, that name seems to have had no deterrent value to investors. To the contrary, it attracts them like a promise: the worse for you it sounds, the merrier will be its consumption.
I'm not entirely sure what to call this particular quality of delusion. Hypocrisy springs to mind. After all, the “Drill, baby drill!” folks like to preach personal responsibility without necessarily taking it. If you can’t find a job, it’s your own problem. You need to take personal responsibility, not government handouts. If you’ve got black skin and the sinking feeling that it’s hampered your progress through both corporate America and airport security, why, that means you’re not taking personal responsibility. It has nothing to do with discrimination. You lost your weekend home in the Hamptons betting on a “subprime” mortgage? WAIT A MINUTE! THAT’S NOT FAIR! I WANT MY MONEY BACK!
Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is a one-man illustration of what happens when you adhere to high principles only when they don’t apply to you. From Andrew Leonard’s article at Salon.com, the headline read, “Bobby Jindal's oil spill crisis of faith,” and, below that, “The principled stimulus foe changes his mind about the evils of accepting government assistance.” The article detailed Jindal’s “principles,” which, as you might guess, involve personal responsibility when it comes to unionized auto workers in Detroit and homeowners in Nevada struggling with underwater mortgages. Contrast those deeply held principles to Jindal’s howls for federal help with his own state’s water problem.
One way to wrangle Jindal’s about face into language is to call it rank hypocrisy of the first order. But I’m intrigued by the word “faith” there in the Salon headline. “Drill, Baby, Drill,” “Bull’s Blood” and “subprime” all strike me as calls to faith, just as a double-dog dare is a call to faith. The dare as an example of language has all the right features: it goes out of its way to be counterintuitive. It sneers, “what, are you chicken?” while urging its listener to take a flying leap into danger. It’s the verbal cue to perform an act of nerve. The faith being tested in such an act is the faith that we can defy the odds, that we alone are the exception to whatever rules of physics, ethics or biology pertain. Sure, most people lose money on bad loans. Most find the taste of blood sickening. Most worry about the environmental impact of big oil. But not Louisiana! Louisiana is the chosen one! Ya might like it!
What we find in daredevil language is not hypocrisy but machismo: the powerful attraction of risk. And when the darer is not undergoing the test of nerve but urging it onto somebody else, machismo is the refuge of the bully. Bullies also combine risk-taking with wimpiness when it comes to facing the consequences. It all fits.
To top it off (not the oil well, silly, but the irony), we discover in Huffington Post that Jindal has written a letter to Obama urging him to call off the temporary moratorium on offshore drilling. Apparently the boring but thoughtful phrase “temporary moratorium” can’t compete with the allure of “Drill, Baby, Drill” for very long, even though the non-rhetorical oil from the non-rhetorical drilling is still making its way to our non-rhetorical coast. Jindal’s subject in the letter is supposed to be his state’s economy, but he uses verbs like “kill,” “destroy” and “limbo” to describe the moratorium’s effect on jobs. He’s GI Joe, we’re to imagine, at war with federal policies and their Latinate names.
He’s got rhetorical reinforcements, too, in whomever came up with the names of the other yet-to-explode off-shore drilling sites scattered around the Gulf: Atlantis, Thunder Horse, Mad Dog, Pompano, Marlin, Horn Mountain, Na Kika, Mars, Ursa, Diana, Hoover and Ram Powell. You don’t need a weather man to catch the subsurface plume of machismo oozing from that list. “Go ahead,” says the Mad Dog. “Make my day.” But when you order up Bull’s Blood, don’t be surprised at the gore.