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In which, for no good reason I can think of, I nitpick about something rather unimportant.

November 17, 2008, 2:52 pm

A number of people are writing about the techno-utopia that awaits us all during the Obama years, now that the President-elect has begun posting weekly addresses to YouTube. These are, it seems, Fireside Chats for the digital age.

That said, the first installment of Obama’s video outreach is a pretty tepid affair. There are no babies farting, no cats sexually assaulting stuffed animals, no Muppets. And President-elect Obama looks rather drawn to me.

Still, I was struck by a stock phrase that appears around the 2:30 mark: “the tyranny of foreign oil.” Way back when, in a time before time, when Matthew Yglesias still blogged at The Atlantic, he congratulated candidate Obama for avoiding this phrase and using in its place, “the tyranny of oil,” which struck Yglesias as less “xenophobic” and more “economically and environmentally accurate.”

That may be right. But I find either iteration grating. Oil itself isn’t tyrannical, and talking about a commodity in this way obscures culpability by directing attention away from the individual choices and public policies surrounding its use. Maybe oil companies are tyrannical, maybe our government is, maybe consumer culture has us under its heel, maybe we’re just stupid and like big cars. I don’t know. But blaming oil for oppressing us, whether it’s produced here or abroad, strikes me as irresponsible. Especially because any student of YouTube knows that we need to begin fueling our energy economy with cat farts. Call me, President-elect Obama, I have ideas. Also, eat a cheeseburger or something; you’re wasting away.

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