In his Monday column with the groan-worthy title "Sex and Drugs and the Spill," Paul Krugman became the paper's third columnist(after Thomas Friedman and Gail Collins) to find a bright spot about the massive oil spill in the Gulf, which began with an explosion that took 11 lives. But not before he managed to blame the spill on the president. No, not Obama, silly, but President George W. Bush, ex-president for over 15 months.
"Obama's Katrina": that was the line from some pundits and news sources, as they tried to blame the current administration for the gulf oil spill. It was nonsense, of course. An Associated Press review of the Obama administration's actions and statements as the disaster unfolded found "little resemblance" to the shambolic response to Katrina - and there has been nothing like those awful days when everyone in the world except the Bush inner circle seemed aware of the human catastrophe in New Orleans.
Yet there is a common thread running through Katrina and the gulf spill - namely, the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years.
For the Bush administration was, to a large degree, run by and for the extractive industries - and I'm not just talking about Dick Cheney's energy task force. Crucially, management of Interior was turned over to lobbyists, most notably J. Steven Griles, a coal-industry lobbyist who became deputy secretary and effectively ran the department. (In 2007 Mr. Griles pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to Jack Abramoff.)
Krugman then graciously conceded that the president of the United States may possibly shoulder some responsibility for what happens in his administration, before cynically suggesting that the tragedy in the gulf had a "silver lining" - that unlike what the Tea Party movement thinks,"there are some jobs only the government can do."
Now, President Obama isn't completely innocent of blame in the current spill. As I said, BP received an environmental waiver for Deepwater Horizon after Mr. Obama took office. It's true that he'd only been in the White House for two and half months, and the Senate wouldn't confirm the new head of the Minerals Management Service until four months later. But the fact that the administration hadn't yet had time to put its stamp on the agency should have led to extra caution about giving the go-ahead to projects with possible environmental risks.
Mr. Obama understands this: he gave an especially eloquent defense of government at the University of Michigan's commencement, declaring among other things that "government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them."
Yet antigovernment ideology remains all too prevalent, despite the havoc it has wrought. In fact, it has been making a comeback with the rise of the Tea Party movement. If there's any silver lining to the disaster in the gulf, it is that it may serve as a wake-up call, a reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.
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