Obama’s Katrina?

From the instant BP’s subaqueous geyser began pouring its inky poison into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, prominent Conservatives have giddily raced to christen this tragedy, “Obama’s Katrina”. Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other perpetrators of Crimes against Sanity, have accused Obama of a variety of missteps, ranging from the somewhat reasonable to the downright outrageous. Of course, It’s easy to disregard some of the more preposterous and conspiratorial accusations hurled at the Obama administration, but by and large, the top echelons of the Republican establishment have adopted the narrative of incompetence, hesitation, and lack of personal responsibility in the spill response at the highest executive level. But what’s most fascinating about the mainstream conservative critique is its complete unawareness of its own hypocrisy.

In criticizing Obama’s slow and ineffectual response to the crisis, Sarah Palin argued that the administration “failed to utilize legislation passed after the Exxon-Valdez disaster that gave the federal government ample power to respond to oil spills”. Mitch McConnel, the Senate Minority Leader, even suggested that the regulatory structure needed to respond to the spill wasn’t sufficiently robust. Thus we have what seems like a basic admission of the necessity of regulatory reforms in the oil industry. But in a truly mystifying twist, Palin and McConell proceed to criticize the regulatory framework which they endorsed just moments prior; “You get the impression [Obama] is continually surprised by the inability of various centralized government agencies to get more involved and help solve problems,” said Palin, “until this leak is plugged, they’re [the American people] not in any mood to hand over even more power in the form of a new national energy tax to a government that, so far, hasn’t lived up to their expectations in its response to this crisis” said McConnell.

I can almost imagine the boxing match that must be going on in their heads:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you a spectacle for the ages! Here in the ring tonight is a match for the history books—two ideologies, mutually exclusive in their own right, fighting for the same ideological space. For the first time in the history of political theory boxing, you will see same the boxer fight himself!

In this corner, wearing the red-shorts we have the heavyweight champion of the Right, the “Limited-Government, Unencumbered Private Industry Slugger”, and in that corner, also wearing the red shorts, we have a hesitant admission, the “Regulate Private Industry, Robust Federal Catastrophe Response Basher!”

 And here’s the bell, Slugger goes in for a quick right jab (“government get out of healthcare, the insurance industry and all private enterprise”) followed by a crushing left hook (“deregulation, deregulation, deregulation”). And Basher is stunned; Slugger seizes the moment for one hell’uv’an uppercut (“government is always less efficient than private industry”). Mad as hell, Basher bounces back to life with a flurry of punches (“why didn’t the Obama Administration respond quickly enough? Why aren’t they taking a more active role in determining the best strategies to plug the gusher? Why haven’t they ensured construction of more mileage of booms? Why aren’t there more stringent regulations on deepwater drilling operations to begin with?)…Round and around the ring they go, how many times can one boxer punch himself? Nobody knows!

The fact is that if the conservative establishment wants to criticize Obama for executive ineptitude, they cannot do so without acquiescing one of their central ideological tenets—limited government. Perhaps the Obama administration was unprepared for this catastrophe, and ineffectual in its response efforts, but isn’t this exactly the magnitude of response we would expect from a scaled down federal government were scaled down?

This, then is the oily situation the American Right must face; if they want to stick to their limited government guns, they have to come to terms with the near certainty of such catastrophes occurring in the future with little or no federal mitigation. But if the heartbreaking images of devastation in the Gulf sit uneasily with them, and if the idea of business as usual, continued deregulation of private industry doesn’t seem quite so smart anymore, then perhaps it’s time the American Right thought a little bit about hanging up their ideologically rigid boxing gloves.