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Blaming Obama May 31, 2010

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in politics.
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Two weeks ago, the  mainstream media meme was that the oil spill in the gulf was Obama’s Katrina. But that never made any sense. As Kevin Drum wrote:

Katrina was a case of a disaster that the federal government is specifically tasked with handling. And for most of the 90s, it was very good at handling them. But when George Bush became president and Joe Allbaugh became director of FEMA, everything changed. Allbaugh neither knew nor cared about disaster preparedness. FEMA was downsized and much of its work outsourced. When Allbaugh left after less than two years on the job, he was replaced by the hapless Michael Brown and the agency was downgraded and broken up yet again. By the time Katrina hit, the upper levels of FEMA were populated largely with political appointees with no disaster preparedness experience and the agency was simply not up to the job of dealing with a huge storm anymore.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is almost the exact opposite. There is no federal expertise in capping oil blowouts. There is no federal agency tasked with repairing oil spills. There is no expectation that the federal government should be able to respond instantly to a disaster like this. There never has been. For better or worse, it’s simply not something that’s ever been considered the responsibility of the federal government.

In the case of Katrina, you have the kind of disaster that, contra Levin, can be addressed by the federal government. In the case of the BP spill, we’re faced with a technological challenge that can’t be. They could hardly be more different.

But there is one way in which they’re similar. Katrina was far worse than it had to be because a conservative administration, one that fundamentally disdained the mechanics of government for ideological reasons, decided that FEMA wasn’t very important. Likewise, the BP blowout was made more likely because that same administration decided that government regulation of private industry wasn’t very important and turned the relevant agency into a joke. If you believe that government is the problem, not the solution, and if you actually run the country that way for eight years, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But let’s not pretend it’s inevitable.

Last week, the mainstream media meme was that the oil spill in the gulf shows the incompetence of government. George Will opined that President Obama “is being unfairly blamed” for its oil spill response but “ it sort of serves him right”. Obama  promised that the government could solve problems but we now know that isn’t true since the government can’t plug an oil leak a mile beneath the surface of the ocean. I guess we should just leave our problems to private enterprises like British Petroleum to solve.

This week, apparently, the meme will be that there isn’t much anyone can do to plug the oil leak but Obama must do a better job of feeling our pain. Over the weekend, the intellectual giant Maureen Dowd took time away from her Sex in the City reruns to give Obama some advice:

For five weeks, it looked as though Obama considered the gushing that became the worst oil spill in U.S. history a distraction, like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a law seminar he was teaching. He’ll deal with it, but he’s annoyed because it’s not on his syllabus.

Even if Obama doesn’t watch “Treme” on HBO, it’s strange that he would not have a more spontaneous emotional response to another horrendous hit for Louisiana, with residents and lawmakers crying on the news and dead pelicans washing up on shore.

Steve Benen is not impressed with the discourse thus far:

At this point, the discourse seems to boil down to a) those who want to see the president don a wetsuit and head to the Gulf floor; b) those who want to see the president don a cape and fly around the planet really quickly in order to reverse time; and c) those who want to see the president pound on podiums and lose his cool, as if that would make a difference. (Thanks, Maureen Dowd, for comparing Obama to Spock again. That never gets old.)

Here’s an idea for assignment editors: publish a piece with specific steps federal officials should take but haven’t. Because at this point, unless we can fix the leak with useless media palaver, there’s not much point to the breathless speculation, nebulous criticism, and finger-pointing.

Indeed. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the one mistake Obama has made is to trust any American institution. Wall St., the health insurance lobby, the Pentagon, and big oil have all stuck him with monumental headaches because he wants to meet them halfway. But of course part of the President’s job is to work with American institutions. Trying to govern by making enemies of them would be unlikely to yield much success either.

But one thing the President could do is take this opportunity to condemn the way industry has succeeded in taking over our regulatory agencies  and attack the morons in the Republican Party who want to “drill, baby, drill”.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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