Obama lucky to have a weak business foe in BP 

You can fault President Obama for not making sure his offshore drilling regulators were up to the job. And you can say he was foolish to believe that pumping an explosive mix of natural gas and oil 2 1/2 miles up to a platform floating 41 miles offshore was "absolutely safe."

But no one can say that he wasn't unlucky in his timing.

The guy spent his whole career opposing offshore drilling and then 21 days after he reversed himself just a bit -- boom -- the worst spill in American history.

But Obama has at least been lucky in who's doing the spilling.

British Petroleum can make anyone look good.

The company's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, followed his terrible congressional testimony with a trip to watch his yacht in a race. Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg pitied the "small people." The company included walruses in the list of Gulf wildlife. The president could go golfing every day, and the Obama administration would never knock BP out of last place in public opinion on the spill.

But even better for Obama, BP is quite comfortable being directed by government.

From 1914 until the Thatcherite reforms of the 1980s, the British government was the majority owner of BP and kept a veto vote on the company's board.

It's taken some time for the folks at General Motors and Citigroup to get used to being owned by the government, but Obamanomics is old hat for BP.

The American model is for companies to make as much money as markets will allow and then pay the government taxes. The European model is to make as much money as your partners in the government let you. As the president would say, "at some point, you've made enough money."

Rep. Joe Barton got in big trouble for saying that it was a "shakedown" when BP agreed to Obama's requests for a $20 billion fund and more.

But BP wasn't the favorite oil company of the Democratic Party just because of the phony "green" marketing and hefty campaign contributions. BP was also leading the charge in the corporate world for Obama's "cap-and-trade" plan and even lobbied for higher gas taxes.

BP knows how to do business with government. It's all about trading independence for protection.

For most American companies, it's different.

On the day that Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal investigation into the still-unchecked spill, an American oil company might have yanked its crews out and invited Holder to come put yellow police tape around the geyser of oil on the sea floor.

I also doubt that the president would have gotten such speedy submission from an American energy company. When Obama demanded the company pay up in advance with no legal framework in place, an American CEO might have said, "We'll see you in court."

That's what's happening now with the year's previous industrial disaster: the April 5 explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners.

At the memorial service for the miners, Obama promised to find out who was to blame for the explosion. He would have probably said the same thing at the May 25 memorial for the 11 riggers killed on the Deepwater Horizon. We'll never know, though, because the president was instead in California that day raising money for Sen. Barbara Boxer.

One reason Obama might have put a higher priority on the West Virginia memorial is that the mining company, Massey Energy, is led by outspoken conservative Don Blankenship, who has put millions of his own dollars into beating Democrats.

The Obama administration has been tuning Massey up for a big hit on the mine investigation. But rather than asking for protection, Massey is fighting back.

The company argues that the methane buildup that led to the explosion may have been caused by a federally imposed ventilation plan put in place over Massey complaints.

Massey is asking the governors of the four states where it operates to help the company resist federal calls for implementing similar systems in other mines. It's shaping up to be a long, brutal legal battle.

It's not politically correct and it's bad public relations, but it's very American. Blankenship is fighting for his company against the government.

It's Obama's good fortune that he isn't facing a fighter in the American mold when it comes to the disaster in the Gulf.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

Pin It

Speaking of...

More by Chris Stirewalt

Latest in Nation

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation