A Commentary by J. F. Kelly, Jr.
The oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico dominates the national news as it should. It is already a man-made disaster of gigantic proportions that is causing immense harm to the sea and coastal environment and to the people who live and work there. Regardless now of when the flow is finally stopped, it will likely take decades to recover from the damage already done. We can only grieve for the many people affected and search for ways to reach out to them.
It’s natural to feel anger and to assign blame but, as in all ongoing disasters, anger and outrage will only get in the way of efforts to find solutions which are urgently needed. Washington must lead the way. Assigning blame and determining punishments can wait. It makes little sense at the moment to castigate BP even as they remain in charge, by law, of the immensely complicated efforts to stop the blowout a mile beneath the surface of the sea.
As Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said in response to suggestions that BP be replaced in this role, ”Replaced by what?” .BP has the technology. The government doesn’t. The question is, will BP be successful or will the oil flow continue until relief wells are completed in mid-summer. BP has tried half a dozen fixes including pumping mud, heavier liquids, golf balls, shredded tires and other debris in an effort to plug the leak. What’s next? Mashed potatoes and crazy glue? As of this writing, nothing has worked.
Meanwhile, crude oil has been flowing into the gulf at a reported rate of 12 to 19 million gallons a day, coming ashore on beaches and wetlands, threatening vast expanses of water and coastline, and affecting wildlife and the seafood industry upon which thousands depend for a livelihood. And hastily-imposed restrictions on other ongoing deep-sea drilling in the Gulf will throw additional thousands out of work, not to mention the effect it will have on domestic oil supplies and prices. This is an ecological and economic disaster of yet-unknown but surely epic proportions.
Anger is now being increasingly directed at the Obama Administration but one has to sympathize with the hapless politicians who haven’t a clue how to stop the hemorrhaging and are ironically largely reliant for the time being on the very industry they love to demonize: big oil. Still, one soon runs out of sympathy for an administration that has steadfastly opposed safer drilling operations in shallow coastal waters and the uninhabited Alaskan Artic coast while permitting much riskier deepwater drilling without credible assurances that failsafe preventive procedures were in place
With the damage compounding by the hour, the public has nowhere to turn but to government. They are not assuaged by excuses. A response that government is doing all that can be done does not bring relief. People want solutions. They will soon realize that despite campaign promises and eloquent speechmaking, politicians really don’t know how to do much of anything except to spend money and make speeches. People have a right, however to expect their elected officials to lead, manage and coordinate, qualities not much in evidence with this president so far. In less than a year and a half in office, this president has led efforts that will result in a tripling of the federal debt by 2020, a consequence of unrestrained public spending on financial bailouts, expanded government, benefits and entitlements including an expanded health care overhaul that a majority of taxpayers did not want. After 18 months of mismanaging the economy in pursuit of his idealistic agenda, what possible confidence can Americans have in his ability to manage this crisis when he has never, in his brief and unremarkable career, managed anything of significance?
Voters have only themselves to blame for electing an inexperienced man to the most powerful office in the world, based mainly on charm, eloquence, charisma and race. Now, facing a crisis of truly frightening proportions, he is like a deer in the headlights, utterly without answers.
Is this assessment unfair? Hardly. He asked for the job and the adoring mainstream media glorified him. Now, he seems very human. “What do you expect him to do when even the experts can’t come up with a fix?” you ask. How about mobilizing the National Guard and legions of volunteers to help with the cleanup now? How about taking foreign governments up on their offers to provide oil skimmers and other marine craft to help contain the oil? How about enlisting the best minds available from other oil and drilling companies and universities to brainstorm the problem? Have any of these things been done? If so, why haven’t we heard about it? If not, is red tape and bureaucracy standing in the way?
In a crisis such as this, the president has to set the tone and demonstrate leadership that inspires best efforts at solutions. In the federal government, it should be all hands on deck twenty hours a day, seven days a week until a solution is found. Replacing some career politicians with people who actually have some expertise at something besides running for office might help, also.
Copyright 2010 J. F. Kelly, Jr.