Monday, May 24, 2010

The Politics of the Gulf Oil Spill

Whereas Rand Paul has gotten into a lot of trouble for his reservations about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he has received much less heat from his similar response to the gulf oil spill - that even though "accidents happen," government should not be in the business of telling private businesses what to do. Dr Paul got a free pass on this one because the nation is still undecided about what the scope of government should be.

Dr Paul has criticized President Obama's condemnation of BP because it "sounds really un-American in his criticism of business." For Dr Paul, business - even one headquartered in London and responsible for a colossal oil spill - must always be given the benefit of the doubt over the federal government. This is because as a pure libertarian, he is first an individual in possession of his natural rights before he is an American or a member of a particular community.

Dr Paul's criticism of the administration is in direct contradiction to that of another Tea-Party ally, Sarah Palin, who has accused the administration for "taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico."

So is the federal government doing too little or too much? Although the disaster in the Gulf is ripe for politicization, the Right has not found a unified attack message because it has not sorted out within its own ranks what the proper role of government should be. The Left is equally undecided.

Bobby Jindal, Governor of the most hard-hit state, Louisiana, is understandably on Palin's side on this issue. He wants more federal aid, not less. Indeed, many liberal commentators appear to be on the same side as Palin too (which, to be sure, might just be indication that Palin doesn't really have a coherent ideology). James Carville felt that the administration had been too "lackadaisical," Donna Brazile felt that the administration hadn't been "tough enough," while Chris Matthews compared the President to "a Vatican Observer."

Ironically, the Obama's administration's position on the proper role of government in the cleanup operation is closer to the libertarians'. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made their fourth visit to Louisiana today, and reminded us that BP is to be blamed and the entity to take the lead in the clean-up, under federal supervision and with federal assistance. In a coordinated public relations strategy, the White House rolled out Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander for the oil spill for a press conference today. In it, he made it clear that the spill was BP's mistake, and so it is BP's mess to clean up. To those agitating for a federal takeover, he had this retort: "To push BP out of the way, it would raise the question, to replace them with what?" According to Allen, the Coast Guard and the military do not possess the equipment and know-how to spear-head the clean-up effort.

And so, fifteen months after Obama delivered his inaugural address, it turns out that he was prescient when he asserted that "the question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." We may seem more polarized than ever, but the rancor around us is evidence of the exact opposite. We live in an ideologically fluid time. Before us is the agitation and national introspection before a new consensus emerges. Is the Reagan Revolution about to enter its Golden Age or will this President, facing crises economic or environmental, be compelled to become the eponym of a new era of politics?

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