Monday, June 21, 2010

Obama's Katrina?

Latest Newspaper Column:

Is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico “Obama’s Katrina”?

Certainly a lot of right-wing pundits and radio hosts would like to make it so. But then, these people have been looking for something to dub “Obama’s Katrina” since the day he took office.

As the watchdog site Media Matters points out, nearly every crisis, no matter how large or small, has been described by someone as “Obama’s Katrina”: the H1N1 flu, the Fort Hood shootings, the failed Christmas Eve plot by the Undiebomber, ice storms in Kentucky, the Haiti earthquake, the GM bankruptcy, the Nashville flood — I guarantee you, if Obama ever appears in public wearing white after Labor Day, someone’s going to call it “Obama’s Katrina.”

The ironic thing about all this effort to dub the spill “Obama’s Katrina” is that the people who are so eager to do so, such as Rush Limbaugh, are some of the very same people who became bitterly angry when the blame for that botched rescue and relief effort was laid at the feet of President George Dubbya Bush and his cronies.

So maybe when Limbaugh calls this “Obama’s Katrina,” he’s calling it “a really big and unmanageable thing that someone else screwed up and that’s totally unfair to blame the president of the United States for.” But probably not.

The major difference between this and the Katrina debacle is this: Hurricane relief was something the government knew how to do and didn’t do it. For example, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we don’t have a secret oil-well-capping ship hidden away.

During Katrina, on the other hand, we did have a U.S. Navy ship (the USS Bataan) steaming right into the Gulf behind the hurricane with a full complement of helicopters, 1,200 sailors and Marines, a water purification plant and a fully functioning hospital — and it steamed around for six days waiting for orders while people suffered and died.

And that’s just one example of things we knew how to do, but which didn’t get done because of incompetence all the way up and down the governmental chain.

In contrast, we don’t really know how to plug a leaking oil gusher a mile under the ocean. And while we have some technology for containing oil spills (booms and the like), this is the biggest spill anyone’s ever seen. Scientists are studying effects they’ve never seen before. We are, in the words of Indiana Jones, “just making this up as we go.”

This, of course, raises the question of whether we should be drilling that deep at all, or whether we should, as Canada does, demand that the oil companies drill a relief well at the same time as the main one, as well as providing a plan in case of blowouts.

But that’s not a question you’re likely to be hearing from the crowd that was mocking the idea of keeping your tires properly inflated to save gas and chanting, “Drill, baby, drill” in 2008.

Some have faulted the president for not visiting the area enough. In response, the White House has stepped up presidential visits to the Gulf Coast to the point where you begin to wonder if he might ought to just move the whole White House down there. Of course, this leads to criticism from the “Obama is always wrong” crowd that he didn’t come down sooner.

But you know what? If I’m someplace where everything is going down the tubes, I don’t want the president of the U.S. on the ground in the area, sucking up the attention, trailing a battalion of reporters and causing security headaches.

I want him nice and comfy in the White House Situation Room, watching the thing in real time with communications and overhead satellite surveillance that only God himself could rival, surrounded by smart people who he listens to, and a phone he can give orders into. That’s why they built the Situation Room in the first place.

The president summoned top BP oil executives, including CEO Tony Hayward, to a meeting at the White House on Wednesday. We don’t know everything that was said, but there’s one phrase made famous at the time of Hurricane Katrina that I’m pretty sure Obama didn’t use. I’m reasonably sure no one said, “You’re doing a heck of a job, Tony.”