Obama and the Gulf Oil Spill

I have been amazed at the way much of the public—and, it would seem, even more of the media—has treated the oil spill caused by the BP drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico as a problem for the federal government to solve.  Has Obama taken charge?  Is he doing enough? Etc., etc. Can memories be so short? Is more than half the country a victim of Alzheimers?

How many years ago did we see folks who now prance around with tea bags in their hands chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill!” (If memory serves, it was exactly two years ago.) Before Obama was elected. How many people remember that for eight years we had an administration that went by the slogan that “the government is the problem” and “starve the beast.” (Except, apparently, when it came to invading other countries, in which case you spend hundreds of billions off budget.) Have we forgotten that the previous Vice President convened secret meetings with oil executives to develop an energy policy and refused even to confirm who attended, much less what was said and what was decided?

Except one thing: the industry was to have its way. No silly business about studying the environmental impact about deep sea drilling before licensing it. Well, of course, you put that in the law for show but prescribe that licenses must be approved or rejected in thirty days and pass the word that careers will not be secure for those officials who get too picky. You make sure that the federal government (in this case, primarily the Coast Guard) is not given the capacity to deal with a major oil spill.  Well, you see, the federal government screws everything up. You don’t want them responsible, so you make sure they don’t have the means to deal with a major oil spill. Make the companies responsible, but limit their liability. Market forces will take care of everything.  (Just like they did with derivatives in the financial industry.)

That was the regime Obama inherited, a regime that Democrats cooperated with Republicans to put in place. One can argue that his administration should have moved faster to change things.  That, however, would not be entirely fair.  Does anybody remember how long it took to confirm Obama’s nominees—some are still not confirmed!  No large bureaucracy can be changed rapidly.

So—if you want to dump on somebody who deprived the federal government of the means of dealing with a major oil spill, you better dump on the Bush-Cheney administration and the Democrats (there were a lot of them) who went along with it.  The oil industry itself is responsible for the spill, responsible for the fact that the federal government was incapable of dealing with it, and responsible for the fact that BP was allowed to cut corner after corner.

I would say to the tea-baggers that if they want to be honest they would start swinging an oil-covered drowned bird when they rant about the federal government being the problem.  Sure, it was the government that was doing that drilling!

And Obama: Well, he has done the right thing to suspend deep drilling for a few months until we can learn more about how to prevent these spills in the future. I do wonder what possessed the oil companies to challenge this in court.  Didn’t their lawyers tell them that, even if they found a compliant federal judge—which, of course, they could, given the people who have been appointing them lately—the administration could keep the order in effect by amending it slightly, and holding to it through a lengthy appeals process.  OK, so the lawyers maybe didn’t tell them that; after all, the lawyers are the only ones, aside from the lobbyists, who are making any money out of this.  But didn’t their PR firms weigh in with different advice? Maybe not.  Given some of the advertising recently, the PR firms must take the American public for idiots.

And you know what? They’ll prove to be right if a lot of people keep talking about this being Obama’s problem.

Princeton, July 16, 2010

© Copyright 2010 by Jack F. Matlock, Jr. All Rights Reserved

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