Conservatives are Screwing Up

Conservatives, nominally supporters of smaller government and free markets, are yet again torpedoing these principles in the name of short term political expediency.  In order to score a few fleeting points against Obama, they are calling him out over the BP oil spill, saying that this is his Katrina, a massive failure both in regulation and response.

That's stupid.  One can certainly raise some questions about the government -- why have they been collecting an oil spill cleanup tax but not any oil spill cleanup capability or equipment, why are we driving oil companies out of easy oil in shallow waters to crazy-hard oil in deep waters.  But this is not Obama's fault nor the government's fault.  This is BP's fault.  They screwed up and started the spill, and it was they that had no contingency plan for such a disaster.  And its going to cost them a staggering amount of money, as it should.

After all, what are the feds going to do?  They certainly can't be expected to maintain the expertise to deal with this kind of thing, particularly in cutting-edge deep water.  Which is why Obama has had to resort mostly to joggling BP's elbow demanding that hey hurry.

We have the incredible sight of Conservatives, rightly, saying that more regulation could not have prevented the financial crisis because regulators are any better than industry participants in spotting problems when entering uncharted territory.  But here we have exactly the same situation and Conservatives are hammering on Obama for not being authoritarian enough or regulating enough.

Postscript: One of the few things the Obama administration has done is demand BP stop using a certain oil dispersant chemical because it is toxic.  Duh.  So is all the oil.  Which is probably why BP ignored him.  Government is terrible with this type of decision.  We have something really bad happening that we can't control.  But we can make it less bad by doing X, but X has some downsides as well.   In the heat of battle, when discretion is required, government will choose the sin of omission (letting more oil reach the shore) over the sin of commission (using a toxic dispersant), even if this decision is irrational.  In their incentive system, the sin of commission is impossible to sluff off on someone else.  The sin of omission can always be blamed on BP, or Bush, or whoever.  This is one reason why government bureaucratic rules are often so detailed and prescriptive -- given these incentives, certain decisions will never be made in the heat of battle by bureaucrats unless their actions are guided by detailed rules, which then give them cover.

Postscript #2: I think the media has tended to underestimate the difficulty here.  5000 feet of water is really deep and complicated to work in, orders of magnitude harder than shallow water, which in turn is orders of magnitude harder than on land.  In a way, its actually kind of amazing that BP has sealed this thing, given that the Soviets, in much less difficult leaks, reportedly had to resort to nukes to seal the well.


  1. morganovich:

    the democrats and republicans are just two rival gangs skirmishing in an environment where you decide how to score points, then bolt on whatever ethics you need to support it after the fact.

    this is the ugly child of moral relativism.

  2. Fred from Canuckistan:

    There is very little the Feds can do about the well leak . . out of their technical league.

    However Obama will wear the massive screw-up that is the shoreline protection and cleanup, because that is something the Feds have the resources to do.

    When stories come out about the infighting between various departments, turf wars over who issues permits, boats sitting idle because there is a waiting list for drug tests for the crews . . . freak'n DRUG TESTS . . my eyes bleed.

    Ya Obama will wear this screw up. After all fair is fair . . Bush had to wear it when the Democrats who ran the corruption that was the Louisana and New Orleans governments, screwed the pooch, so it only holds that Obama will wear for elements of the government he has complete control over.

    He should wear it. It fits him. He's so in love with big government this disaster is like Karma.

  3. elambend:

    A friend of mine took a class in college called "Organizational Disasters." Although I didn't take the class, we ended up discussing a lot of what he learned in the class.
    This disaster reminded us both of the class. People just cannot conceive of just how hard it is to a) drill for oil at these depths and b) fix a problem like this. The media (and the Republicans) don't help the matter with their actions.

  4. elambend:

    I'm not much of a Peggy Noonan fan, but this was great:
    "But Republicans should beware, and even mute their mischief. We're in the middle of an actual disaster. When they win back the presidency, they'll probably get the big California earthquake. And they'll probably blow it. Because, ironically enough, of a hard core of truth within their own philosophy: when you ask a government far away in Washington to handle everything, it will handle nothing well. "

  5. Mesa Econoguy:

    More telling in the Noonan piece was this:

    When your most creative thoughts in the middle of a disaster revolve around protecting your position, you are summoning trouble.

    Even worse, when your post hoc analysis includes accepting responsibility while still denying/deflecting it, is 1) pathetic, 2) counterproductive, and 3) political death.

    When you try to dodge ownership of a problem, when you try to hide from responsibility, life will give you ownership and responsibility the hard way.

    This mess is now Barack's UFO: U Fucking Own it, Barack. Nice job.

    But please do not blame Obamalini exclusively - he had help from some exceptionally stupid advisors. Stupid people [Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod] proffering stupid ideas [Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod] need to be dismissed at stupid (GSP â„¢).

    Larry Gatlin (The Gatlin Bros. Band) said it best yesterday: it is clear that Obama has been elevated far beyond his capacity. This is known as the Peter Principle in business, but Obamalini has no knowledge of this, having zero private sector experience.

    It is time for Barack and his friends to just "go away."

  6. Fred from Canuckistan:

    The words "never again, spoken so often" . . .!

    Live by the speech, live with the consequences.

  7. astonerii:

    The federal government would be the most efficient player to do the clean up. That is why they pay a tax for cleanup. The federal government would only need one set of rules, one set of equipment, and one set of employees to take care of all potential oil spills. How many companies operate in the Gulf of Mexico which is controlled not by the companies nor owned by them, but by the government? This is why each state does not have its own military capable of invading other countries, because the states chose long ago to make a federation of states government through the use of the Constitution of the United States of America. So, here we got a libtardarian once again thinking that we just simply need no government at all for any reason whatsoever.

  8. Flatland:

    Blaming Obama for the BP spill is stupid.... However...

    Considering all the blame Bush took for Katrina, it's only fair.

    What comes around, goes around.

  9. L Nettles:

    When I read about the technical difficulties of drilling in mile deep water I keep thinking about Apollo 13.

  10. Michael:

    There is a big difference between Katrina and the oil spill. With natural disasters, federal law requires the state or city to take the lead in dealing with the after effects. With an oil spill, federal law requires the president to take the lead in dealing with the after effects.

    Bush couldn't do anything until the governor or mayor requested help, and even then is limited to a supporting roll. Obama is blowing off anyone with a functional plan. Jindal want to build sand berms to protect the marshes. Can't do it. Keven Costner has 30 centrifuges that can process 300,000 gallons of oil water per day each. Can't use them.

    When we're able to look at this with hindsight, we'll find Obama let this develop it to the biggest mess it could.

  11. Pat Moffitt:

    The spill response is about what looks good- not what does good. Its a political reality both R and D. Much of the harm done in the Valdez spill was the result of overly aggressive clean up efforts. Taxpayers paid for the NAS reports Oil in the Sea to learn these lessons. However when media stands in front of a politician asking what are you doing-- political decision making takes over. So if we are not going to follow any of the reports we paid for about spill clean up- let's at least stop doing the research and save a little money.

  12. Gregg:

    I wasn't ready to put this around Obama's neck from the beginning. But the reaction since the explosion has been pretty pathetic. The media has gone out of their way to tell us how angry Obama is, and how much he really cares. With GWB, it was just another example of his indifference and incompetence. Also, I know that if a Republican were in the White House, he would already be impeached. Jindal is working very hard. In marked contrast to Blanco.

    Why is it that politically right leaning people always question the motives of right leaning politicians, but politically left leaning people rarely question the motives of theirs? Where were the leftists urging constraint in the criticism of GWB? There weren't any. They play for keeps.

  13. Craig:

    There's not a whole lot the government can do, but what the president should have done is said, "The time for blame, recriminations, and restitution will come later. Right now, we need to stop the finger-pointing and plug the hole." Instead, we have Congressional hearings, resignations, and a BP blamefest, all of which is distracting from what the primary focus right now should be.

  14. Rob:

    Obama lied, marshes died!

  15. Michael:

    There’s not a whole lot the government can do...

    There should have been, but the previous 2 administrations have blown off buying the inexpensive, approved and funded equipment needed to deal with this kind of problem. There is dual party blame for this. The law is clear that the executive branch is responsible for the coasts. Bush and Clinton failed.

  16. Henry Bowman:

    Well, first off, why the hell has BP not asked for a nuke to seal the spill? It absolutely works, it is proven technology and a helluva lot safer than letting the oil spew out, though of course the real problem may be drilling a [short] well beside the original one.

    That said, it seems clear that B.O. simply doesn't like to work with actual problems. This should be no surprise: he has no experience in dealing with the real world. If he weren't such an outstanding con artist, he'd be regarded as a clown.

  17. Mark:

    The Republicans are correct to some extent. One, Obama is being particularily aloof about the whole crisis.

    Two, he does have executive powers to help which he has not used. Gov. Jindal of LA needs permission to erect barriers to keep the coast line clean. Obama could tell the EPA and Coast guard to allow it in a minute. It has been weeks.

    And liberal Kevin Costner has a centrifuge solution he wants to test but can not because he is also still waiting for permission.

    These are local folks and folks putting in their own free market money who are being stymied by government regulators and Obama so far has refused to put an end to it.

  18. tehag:

    When people believe the power of the state is inifinite, only two responses are possible: anger, when the Republican emperors fail to protect them, or pretense, when the Democrat emperors fail to protect them.

  19. Judge Fredd:

    Just like with Katrina, there' truly little in the way of activity that a sitting President can do in response to a natural disaster. I live in Louisiana, and survived Katrina by being smart and fleeing the state. How lucky that was when I watched the response of Gov. "Blankstare" Blanco and "Idea Man" Nagin. The federal response was delayed by them and when asked, there was a Keystone Kops response by the feds. Not acceptable.

    This time around, Jindal and Nungesser were screaming for help when they realized a spill was afoot. And what did the feds do?

    Did they allow the sand berms, which would have prevented the oil from getting into the marsh approved? No, and it's now made landfall. Only after it made it to shore did the feds allow a SCALED DOWN version of the berms to be created. Truly pathetic.

    This proves to me that Obama dragged his feet, hoping that the mess would be taken care of. Now that it hasn't, he now has to OWN it; something that people who said Bush had to do for the response of Katrina. Suddenly, the Bush bashers have been ominously silent until recently and are only now giving lackluster critiques to the President. You know you're doing a bad job when James Carville castigates his own on national TV.

    One last thing, Mr. President. Don't expressly state that you've been in charge since day one of this mess. The response and mitigation thus far leaves MUCH do be desired, and you would have been fired by now if you were an underling.

  20. Mark:

    @Judge Fredd;

    Totally agree with you. The president may not have the technology to cap a well himself, but he does have the power to ease regulations temporarily and or push through approvals for projects, which could be done by state governments or private industry. This includes the Berms you mention. Obama has just sat there the whole time and it looks really arrogant to not do anything for the oil spill and yet go around the country campaigning, going on vacation, needing to be badgered to visit the locals, then yelling at the local priest who is trying to help Obama.

    It is just crazy.

    Another interesting point is that the Fed is responsible for the defense of our nation and interstate trade. Basically when an event is large enough to cover several states then constitutionally the Fed is at least partially responsible. To have oil in the gulf, which is going to affect several states, and possibly several countries internationally, definitely puts it in the realm of Federal responsibility.

  21. Libtardarian:

    Umm, to Mr. WONDERFUL astonerii: Anarchists believe in no government at all, you have us confused with Anarchists. We believe in government, just not a huge federal government. Second, They have liability limits: That's got government written ALL OVER IT(if you someone think they'll solve the problem, those limits can be blamed FOR the problem). Essentially: They let the oil companies FAIL to bring in so much oil a year via spills, leakage, etc. which encourages the companies to be more lenient because they know they'll have the coverage for so much oil being lost out of total oil removed. Bp is not taking responsibility for this one(why do you think the government is getting the wrap?), which they should be taking responsibility. By actually catering to them and wiping their ass, you're giving them what they want and not teaching responsibility for your mistakes. Finally, if your only conclusion as to why the government should cleanup the mess is because they have a cleanup tax, there is an environment tax. Does that mean the government should turn off your AC and shut down your electricity at the same time every day to help keep it "safe". Better yet, there are some states that have a food tax, should the government feed us too? Get rid of the fucking tax, it's the whole reason we have liability limits.

  22. Eddie:

    I think my perspective can be summed up in this fashion: "So, you believe that the federal government is the answer to all crises? Okay, when did this oil spill start again?"

    It's not that, as a conservative, I want the government regulating everything to death, it's that when the folks who do are in charge, I am going to question their inability to perform.

    I suspect that if they weren't regulating oil platforms away from the coastline to water of a mile or more depth, this sort of thing wouldn't be a problem at all.