Oily politics getting stickier 

This is going to seem odd coming from a conservative blogger, but I come not to condemn President Obama, but to defend him. This isn't a clever ruse or satire, but an honest appeal to my fellow conservatives and indeed to the left as well.

It is fashionable, and politically convenient, to hammer President Obama over the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. Certainly there's room for criticism, and even the left is concerned over the president's apparent lack of real concern or effort in dealing with this catastrophe. There is a lot he could do and is not; a few examples include the halted oil dredging barges Governor Jindal of Louisiana ordered (stopped to check for safety equipment), the oil booms that a Maine company offered but weren't allowed, the long delay of Dutch oil cleaning ships being used, due to the Jones Act. All of these are easy things president Obama could, as head of the executive department, slash through the red tape and give the orders to make happen. President Bush, for example, waived the Jones Act during the Katrina emergency and cleanup. Fellow Examiner Opinion Zone contributor Bruce McQuain over at Q&O.net has a great article with other things that could of and should have been done immediately, yet were not.

And I agree with the concern many have raised that other than make a few speeches and look for ways to punish BP, President Obama seems significantly more interested in golfing and doing fund raising events for Democratic Party congressional candidates. Like the CEO of British Petroleum going on a yacht race, these follies make it seem like both are more interested in play than in work, despite their repeated statements of working hard and being focused on the job. President Obama said he would not rest until this was dealt with, then almost immediately went on vacation to rest, which sends a pretty poor signal.

Certainly the fact that President Obama claimed ignorance on a wide variety of topics which his administration certainly knew about - such as the booms in Maine, the extent of the oil leak, and so on - doesn't contribute to a particularly competent image, either.

As a result, some blame must be laid at the foot of the president, just as there needs to be blame at the feet of BP, Halliburton, and Congress, among others. As President Obama said, "there's plenty of blame to go around." What I'm concerned about is unrealistic, extraordinary blame. Surely kicking President Obama in the teeth and useful is fun for his political enemies, but there are actual limits on what the president can and should do.

President Bush was condemned for pretty much everything that happened during his time in office, from the weather to sporting events to prices and events far beyond his control in Hurricane Katrina. He was condemned for following standard emergency response steps when the hurricane hit, he was condemned for things the governor of Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans alone were guilty of. He was condemned for things that never even happened such as the infamous "cannibalism in the Superdome" story.

Recently in the Washington Examiner, Matthew Sheffield wrote about this very effect:

Anti-Bush furor, meanwhile, had the exact opposite effect on liberals and moderates. Instead of shrinking their faith in government’s capabilities, it significantly expanded it. The only reason the U.S. economy had gone south or that other nations weren’t fans of America was because George W. Bush was the president.

It was a surprisingly simplistic argument that, unfortunately for President Obama, has become a nihilistic genie who cannot be put back into a bottle. Having let forth the argument that the president is literally responsible for anything bad that happens during his administration, it’s a bit hard now for the public to be persuaded that it’s really not Obama’s fault that oil is spewing into the ocean off American shores.

Having portrayed the president as not simply responsible for and guilty of anything that goes wrong, but by implication superhumanly capable of dealing with any issue and flaw. Such an image suggests that when any crisis or problem arises, the president simply has to strap on the red and blue suit, and fly around the earth several times to make everything all right again. The president of the United States has a lot of power, but he does not have a magic president wand to make everything okay.

The president of the United States cannot make the oil slick spreading in the Gulf of Mexico go away. He cannot hasten technology or make British Petroleum plug the hole faster than it is already. He cannot make the oil stop spreading over the ocean; he cannot make it stop killing fish and wildlife. He cannot prevent the oil from damaging beaches and damaging economies along the gulf coast. He is limited to reality and the abilities his office gives him.

Conservatives who push this idea of the super-capable office are not merely buying into but promoting the leftist concept of government as the answer to all our ills. Condemning the president for "not plugging that damn hole" sadly helps sell the idea of the all-powerful government which we all should turn to when things go wrong. Conservatism has for as long as the modern movement has been in place been about self-reliance and at best a suspicion of government and its powers. Conservatives are the first to point to failures and incompetence at the government level as proof we shouldn't trust and rely on that body for our solutions.

British Petroleum (BP) has the strongest motivations in the world for getting this work done and are working around the clock to make it happen - the CEO is worthless in this effort, so his yachting jaunt isn't so much lazy or wasteful as it is in poor taste. They are driven by the massive loss of money, the bad publicity this is causing them and thus the stock damage, and the loss of potential revenue as the oil is spewed into the ocean rather than tankers. In other words, market forces and greed are driving them to work hard. And while I suspect this isn't of primary concern, at least some of the people working at BP are probably doing so because they hate the destruction this is causing, are concerned about the people living in the area, and want to save the environment from further damage. They'll get this dealt with, eventually.

That's the conservative approach. Surely the president can and should do all his office allows and empowers him to do to deal with the oil leak. Yet BP has all the right motivations and typical conservative driving force to face this challenge, with sleeves rolled up and old fashioned hard work.

So when I read repeated, gleeful attacks on the president condemning him for not making the impossible happen, I want to urge people to remember that President Obama is a mere mortal, albeit a remarkable man. Any man who can reach the presidency is remarkable and intelligent. He is a very effective speechmaker, appears to be a very good father and loving husband, and is quite good at public relations work. He has a genuine gift for reaching out to and inspiring radical activists and is very skilled at manipulating many people's perception using the media. All of that makes him a very good politician.

Yet in the end, he's still a man, and even if he somehow were an effective leader, he's incapable of doing everything that was promised, let alone everything that the president was blamed for failing in with the previous administration.

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About The Author

Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor is an author and illustrator from Oregon, the owner of Word Around the Net where he has been blogging for four years. He is a freelance contributor for the Examiner Opinion Zone blog. Christopher also is the owner of Kestrel Arts, a small games and entertainment company.
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