I actually wrote a post last week about Jack Kelly’s column, but wanted to write more, so I ended up not posting anything (my bad). I am not going to revisit last week’s topic, but I would like to look at this week’s column. Kelly is trying to navigate a strange path, pretending that any problems in the government miraculously sprang into existence on January 20, 2009. It was the Bush administration that created and as far as anyone knows encouraged an atmosphere of “coziness” between the Minerals Management Service and private industry in resource extraction regulation. I will note that part of the MMS’s responsibility was to collect royalties from resource extraction on federal lands. There was a program started, in the Clinton administration, where the industry sold some fraction of oil on behalf of the government, and gave them the revenue. When the Bush administration came in, it kept the program going, but understaffed it and left it in the hands of amateurs. The GAO felt the government lost perhaps billions of dollars because the MMS simply wasn’t keeping track.
So what degree of responsibility for this mess should we hold Obama to? Well, I will get to his response in a moment, but first we should think about the MMS since January 20, 2009. Or perhaps since July 15, 2009, when Elizabeth Birnbaum became director of the (obviously troubled) MMS. The rig started drilling in September 2009, which I would assume means the permitting was being done essentially at the same time Ms. Birnbaum was starting working at the MMS. Perhaps her signature was on the final papers, as her subordinates assured her the rig met all the safety requirements. The rig started drilling September 2009, the same month Van Jones resigned from office because of a conservative witch hunt, the same month Tea Party types were planting ringers in Town Hall meetings to scream at Congress-persons.
Kelly notes that it is unreasonable to expect Obama to have checked on the MMS personally (or checked on whether any government agency had oil booms in stock). But Kelly does blame Obama for a tardy response. It is interesting to see conservatives on the one hand blame the Obama administration for practicing politics as usual, yet the same conservatives blame Obama for a tardy response and also too much deference to BP in the oil spill. Clearly Obama does bear some responsibility for the degree of his reaction. But I suspect that when Obama is tempted to say something like how the big corporations don’t care about the little guys and poor fishermen, or how they don’t care about the environment, he thinks it might be the surest way of proving that conservatives are correct about his having a radical agenda. I think there is a way to speak more harshly about BP than Obama has, but Obama’s recent words makes me suspect he has realized this too. Unfortunately tardiness in politics is almost as big a sin as not responding at all. And there in lies Obama’s problem.
So as in other situations, I agree to a point that Obama has either not done enough or done the wrong thing in this situation. But I think that Obama’s critics continue to fail to acknowledge the role the previous administration previously or other conservatives currently play in any given crisis. If Kelly’s intention is to help us understand the current situation he is not doing well. Of course, if the intention is to achieve a partisan objective, then Kelly is doing quite well.
One more point. Obama suggested increasing offshore drilling a few weeks before the current spill, I believe to garner support for the other parts of his energy proposals. Of course, the offshore drilling proposal has come back to haunt him. But suppose Obama had, say, halted off shore drilling two months ago, because he thought there might be a spill; Obama's critics would have started screaming. Obama has already halted new and I believe current deep water drilling. Right now gas prices are dropping slightly, and as long as that continues, Obama will dodge the bullet. But look for massive criticism if gas prices go up (and remembering the summer of '07, prices can rise simply because speculators think they should). Obama could also use this spill to call for people to drive more sensibly too, but I suspect the image of Carter in the sweater would be raised instantly by conservatives.