Bush's Second Katrina

David Brooks infuriates me. For some reason he's the conservative commentator whom liberals listen to, and sometimes even agree with. Whether writing for the New York Times, appearing on The News Hour on PBS or Meet the Press on NBC, Brooks manages to put a seemingly reasonable, rational face on modern anti-government, corporatist conservatism.

While his latest piece for the New York Times, "The Oil Plume," seems pretty reasonable in the first sentence ("an interesting turning point on the Obama presidency"), it turns absurd in the second sentence ("the period of lightning advance" - you mean lightning like the 18 months it took to pass health care "reform?") and snidely condescending by the third ("Obama... aroused the messianic hopes").

Don't bother reading "The Oil Plume." Brooks's op-ed is filled with absurdities ("an era of bold movement"), pessimism ("no chance of creating a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Unemployment will not be coming down soon") and false conclusions ("Everybody is comparing the oil spill to Hurricane Katrina, but the real parallel could be the Iranian hostage crisis.")

The readers and comment writers on NYTimes.com know better.
George W. Bush left Mr. Obama with a legacy of insoluble problems, including two wars, a ruined economy, and massive debt, just for starters. Now reasonable sounding commentators are writing thoughtful columns about the disappointment settling in on all those who were looking for hope and change.

Oddly, there was silence when financial industry regulations were being undone... constitutional freedoms were being dismantled, and while White House lawyers were using wordplay to justify torture.. transparent lies were used to sucker this country into unwinable wars... when Cheney held secret meetings with Enron to make decisions about energy policy.

Mr. Obama is handling a series of impossible situations as well as anyone could under the circumstances. He’s playing the hand he was dealt without complaining, carping, or impotent whining. If only as much could be said about the conservative commentators who seek to rewrite not only the past, but the present as well.

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Your basic premise is so wrong that it easily invalidates your entire thesis. To wit: we ARE in the oil business and we have been for at least 100 years. The federal government is responsible for obtaining fair value from those companies that take our (yes, OUR) energy and using the proceeds for the benefit of us all. To that end, it's clearly those who have not only allowed but encouraged the dissolution of various government agencies, such as the Minerals Management Department, all in the effort to starve our government into disappearing. Well, it worked. So how do all your little conservative cohorts feel about what they've done to us now?

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Sure, this is a great opportunity to discuss the proper role of government regulation. But let's frame the question another way: isn't this the perfect time for small-government conservatives to reconsider their faith in free markets? Sure, the government doesn't know how to run an industry, but apparently, industry doesn't do a great job of running itself. The laissez faire policies of the Bush administration might even be a direct cause of this spectacular market failure which will cost BP billions of dollars and destroy billions in wealth that the fishing and tourism industries would have generated.

Sure, this catastrophe raises questions about the ineptitude of government, but the government willingly let companies like BP do whatever they wanted for years now. Given this, it seems more appropriate to ask whether the oil spill is a metaphor for the ineffectiveness of industry, and whether government needs to keep an eye on it.

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The disaster in the Gulf is not analogous to the Iran hostage crisis. It is a problem we have created ourselves rather than the action of a hostile foreign government. It is a very loud alarm bell about many problems that grow out of our dependence on oil and out of government corruption.

Rather than causing stagnation, it may well galvanize a much larger group of voters than the Tea Party movement. It already has changed our political landscape in that it has made many more people aware of the incestuous relationships between government regulators and the corporations they are supposed to restrain. Hearings show that these government regulators were just as careless and corrupt as the ones who were supposed to be watching Wall Street. Our economic environment has been trashed by toxic financial products and our marine environment is being trashed by oil.

We pay taxes for government on our behalf, do not get it, and then have to pay to clean up disasters enabled by our corrupt and ineffective government. The national debate needs to shift from the old red herring of "big government vs. small government" to a unanimous demand for honest, effective and competent government that provides good value for the tax dollars it collects. What we have learned in the last decade is that we have been paying for corruption, collusion and corporate rape of this country on an almost unimaginably grand scale. The recent Supreme Court ruling concerning corporate contributions to political campaigns is a blatant confession that our government has been highjacked. It is time to put corporate interests in their proper place, which is subordinate to the public good and national security. It is time to build an effective fire wall between government regulators and the corporations from which they are supposed to protect us, and it is time to purge corporate funds from political campaigns.

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The Tea Party is big in Louisiana. The state of regulation of oil drilling in the gulf is the work of 8 years of Bush, not a year of Obama. The latitude given to the oil industry, the paucity of government control, is exactly what the Republicans and the Tea Party demand. What the residents of the gulf are facing, and the fact that we now have no choice but to rely on BP to fix the problem because the government simply has not developed the capacity to do so, as tragic as it is, is the exact result of how they voted. As someone said this weekend, this is not Obama's Katrina -- this is Bush's second Katrina.