Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Posts Tagged ‘Oil Spill’

Not the Crime but the Cover-up: How Obama fell into the Gulf

In Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on June 15, 2010 at 6:15 am

As you prepare to watch the President’s speech from the Oval Office tonight (unless other matters demand your time and attention), you might ask yourself why it is that this President is being blamed for this disaster. After all he did win the election against his opponent John “drill baby drill” McCain. Sure, the president did announce support for more offshore drilling just weeks before the disaster, and he did not clean house in the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is a poster child for fox in the henhouse regulatory capture. But what caught Obama up in this imbroglio was not the crime of allowing BP to play Russian roulette with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the cover-up afterward in which BP tried to assure the American people that the extent of the damage was going to be far less than it actually turned out to be.

When the President took office, he did have a lot going on: two wars, a run on the banks, the fall of the auto industry, depression era stagnation, health care, student loans, etc. When it came to energy policy he must have thought that  splitting the middle with the Republican Party made sense. Obama was pushing for Cap and Trade, a climate approach that relied on market forces that could be used to cut a deal across party lines on energy reform. How bad could it be to rely on some mix of deep sea drilling given that the world’s nearly 7 million people need energy and must get it somehow. The gulf rigs did make it through Katrina after all.  Here was a chance to be a uniter and not a divider.

This thinking actually made political sense to me at the time. I did not come out and say this then, but I thought that Obama was being quite savvy in his move to allow the Governors with a taste for more risk to take on more drilling off their own state’s shores. Remember how vicious the attacks on his lack of bi-partisanship were at the time as the health care vote loomed. Obama will face similar problems with nuclear power as we simultaneously confront increasing needs and global competition.

But this reasonable move to cross party cooperation was not what sunk Obama, instead the day that will live in infamy was May 14th 2010, when NPR commissioned an analysis of the flow rate from a scientist at Purdue university with expertise in estimating flow rates from video. If you recall this story, it was a shocker and could have been a pivotal moment for the President, but Obama did not take the bait. Because BP was engaged in an active spin campaign to play down the panic that would attend the validation of such estimates, Obama’s lack of attention to these findings, (which were confirmed by other experts at the time as well), placed him symbolically on the side of the cover-up. Up to that point most people seemed to have the reasonable sense that Obama was far less associated with careless drilling operations than the next best alternative: Sarah palin. After that, the slow transfer of ownership was underway. Today, the spill is widely blamed on Obama’s lack of oversight at MMS. Read the rest of this entry »

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What was that about a Good Crisis? The politics of immigration and hydrocarbons

In Domestic Politics on May 27, 2010 at 9:40 am

Do you remember that line of Rahm Emanuel’s that those among us who are Republicans love to repeat: you never want a serious crisis to go to waste? It is a great line because it reflects a hard-bitten political instinct that is really quite savvy, although it may not have been politic to say it in public. Opponents of the President have been quite wrong in attributing this machine politics sensibility of his Chief of Staff to him, for in Obama’s radical moderation he is going to let two serious crises pass him by in the same season. The trick in making sense of these crises is that each points in a different direction.

Just Tuesday, we learned that Obama is going to move to secure the border with 1200 troops, a decision he seems to have reached after meeting with Republican Senate leaders. One might imagine that he is speaking about the border with North Korea, but no, this is our ally Mexico. In a move that apparently splits the middle of concerns on this issue, he balances the fear driven concerns of those who live in Western States with the fear driven concerns of Latinos and civil rights groups who see the Arizona law as a way to introduce a kind of ethnic Apartheid.  Obama here is probably making a mistake by avoiding the chance to signal to all Latinos everywhere that the Democratic Party is their natural home as the Civil Rights act did for African Americans.

This week as the BP disaster has washed thick oil into the marshes of Louisiana, the public furor about the lack of safety precautions taken by the company is only now washing ashore here on the banks of the Potomac. We have Read the rest of this entry »