May 28, 2010

Politics: Yes This Is Obama's Katrina

The President is in real trouble over this oil slick in the Gulf. His inaction has started to raise the ire of Democrats as well as Republicans. While his defenders are quick to point out that BP, not Obama caused the oil slick, the argument, deliberately, misses the point. The fact of the matter is like President Bush, he has been tied to the disaster whether fairly or not and what matters is not who caused it but who is going to solve it.

John Kerry was highlighted on Hannity on Fox News yesterday defending the President. He attempted to do so by talking about the schizophrenia of voters who want less government but then are clamoring for government solutions to problems like this. Unfortunately the discussion that followed veered off topic and onto Obama’s health care and whether people wanted it or not. The real point is much simpler. I've mentioned this often over the past two years. The government is supposed to be a referee when it comes to business and consumers and legal matters. They are there not to be a player, just to exist outside the game and officiate. That means that they do not buy GM. They do not bail out banks that made bad decisions. Failure should not be rewarded. Referees are supposed to be neutral arbiters of fair play.

Did BP make mistakes or disobey the rules or some combination of the two? Likely. So as arbiter, the job of government is penalize any violations that BP made. The government's other job is to protect its citizens. I've likened this to being the guardian of the sandbox that the children play in - set the rules for playing, make sure the kids aren't hurt or kidnapped by some miscreant, and step aside so they can play.

What's missing in this oil slick business is the government's role as guardian. They coastline and its residents need protection and it hasn't been forthcoming. The Gulf coast needs help. They needed it three weeks ago. Despite proclamations of being on top of this from day one, clearly the Obama administration has only been on top of it from a political damage control standpoint.

That's where John Kerry is wrong about the public's schizophrenia. The public is consistent - keep us safe, make sure everyone plays fairly and then stay out of the way. Don't try to run everything because that's not your job. And it's where President Obama is facing the stark reality of his own Katrina in his inadequate response.

Where are the replies to the sand bar barricades that Governor Bobby Jindal has requested? Why is BP in charge and why are they suddenly being painted as answering to the President all along when clearly they weren't? Why did President Obama wait nearly 40 days to get to the scene of the disaster when President Bush was excoriated for taking 4 days to get there when Katrina happened? Why did the press wait so long to 'press' the President on this?

As an aside I think the President is trying to come in at the right political time. He's taking responsibility (while still blaming Bush and BP and the culture at MMS) right when it looks like BP has staunched the flow of oil. In other words he wants the timing to be such that he gets credit for this success of stopping the oil spill but not the blame for any of the failures to do so over the past month. Throw in a disgusting blame Bush meme and you've got the makings of a self-serving politician trying to capitalize on a national disaster. What's more, while claiming to be the ultimate responsibility on the situation and that it is his number one priority the President was unaware that Elizabeth Birnbaum head of the MMS had quit. Or at least he didn't know the details or something. That doesn't jibe with the "I'm all over it" narrative.

Is this Obama's Katrina? Not really - it's actually much worse. In addition to the failures of inaction and confusion the President seems as opportunistic as always. A story about his daughter's concerns while endearing does not provide one iota of absolution. The polls are starting once again to reflect the reality of the situation.

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