The Limitations of Government
The politics of the oil spill keep rattling around in my head (yes, I should probably have that checked) and I have been contemplating a post on the subject for several days to go beyond what I wrote in my post, Is Oil Spill becoming Obama’s Katrina? I have a number of disparate and/or inchoate thoughts on the subject, but the main theme that runs through them all is that this event simply demonstrates the limitations of government followed by the fact that we, as a country, have highly contradictory views about what we expect from our government (to the point of cognitive dissonance in some cases). For example, anyone over the last couple of years who has been calling for “limited government” and/or brandishing terms like “socialism” and who yet also think that the government ought to be able to fix this situation lickity-split have some serious logical issues that need to be sorted out.
What, for example, would the political fall-out have been if the first year of the Obama administration that he suggested that billions be invested in preparing for massive oil spills given the prevalence of off-shore drilling? Somehow I don’t think it would’ve flown.
This is not to say, by the way, that there are not real criticisms to be leveled at the government’s response (there always are). Nor is it to say that the president won’t take a political hit over all of this (they always do).
However, the fundamental issue here is that this is a case that demonstrates a) the limitations of regulation and/or the need for more/better ones, and b) that sometimes mistakes of monumental proportions gets made when people are involved.
Further, this is also a case of what the libertarian-wing of the GOP says that they want: let business do its thing, and if it screws up, make them fix it and pay for it. It also shows that the government is not omnipotent.
Beyond all of that, I think that David Brooks pretty much hit the nail on the head when he said the following on The News Hour last week in regards to Obama’s response:
DAVID BROOKS: Well, he could do better theater maybe. And he held a press conference yesterday. And he probably should have held that a couple weeks ago. And he probably should have had made daily press conferences, as Bobby Jindal did during Katrina or Rudy Giuliani did after 9/11.
And, so, that would have been nice, if he had maybe explained more or showed more theater. But that wouldn’t have closed the hole at the bottom of the ocean.
DAVID BROOKS: The government has certain jobs. And part of the job is to regulate the oil industry, so this thing doesn’t happen as much as it could.
Part of the job is to help people who are hurting who are in those industries, who are in those towns, who are in the restaurants. That’s clearly part of the government’s job. And the government’s job is to oversee BP to close the hole.
But BP has an incredible incentive to close that hole. There is nothing — they have no incentive to let it keep open. So, I’m not sure I personally blame President Obama because that hole is still open.
That last point is rather important: every day that this spill continues, BP faces massive losses. They have every reason to want it stopped and stopped now.
The major problems here are that a) there are no proven technologies that exists to stop this leak and, b) whatever technologies that do exist are in private (not government) hands.
Mostly I hear people who want the President to “do something” (but we aren’t sure what), or that we need “the best minds” assembled (like this is an episode of Star Trek or something) or simply that the president emote more (basically Maureen Dowd’s argument or Mark Shields’ in the PBS piece from whence came the Brooks’ quotes).
It seems to me that we have hear a monumental disaster for which there is no immediate and simple solution and that it has be addressed in that fashion.