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Crisis Reveals Character

June 21, 2010

Because government organisations are big, complex and often unlogical, few people are in the position to say where lies the problem when an agency’s output is not as one would like it to be. To the majority of voters government agencies are black boxes that can be judged at best by what goes in and what comes out, without knowing what happens in between. This, I think, is part of the reason why catastrophic events tend to pull down a president’s poll ratings. It’s not that voters don’t understand that the president is not to be blamed for the weather (as in Bush and Katrina) or for an oil rig explosion (Obama and BP — although there clearly is an oversight problem in this case). It’s that efforts to contain the damage of those events are far from perfect and that because it’s hard to tell who or what is causing the inefficiencies, the top of the command chain gets the responsibility–in some cases deservedly so, in some less.

In the French Cowboy’s opinion, there are few things Obama can do to minimise the damage done by the oil spill. But it’s pretty sad to see that he didn’t manage to do the little he could do and instead made several huge mistakes. For one thing he seems to have underestimated the problem for a long time. That was mostly a political mistake. Instead of going golfing he should’ve traveled to the affected areas and be where the trouble is.

More importantly, though, Obama made at least three practical mistakes. Probably worst of all is his moratorium on all offshore oil drilling. This is having a huge and unnecessary negative economic impact and does nothing whatsoever to improve the situation. It’s either a panic reaction or it has some sinister political goal, in any case, it makes things worse, not better.

Secondly, Obama refused the offer of help from thirteen countries from Canada, to South Korea, to Romania. All Obama needed to do was to waive the Jones Act (a protectionist piece of legislation that could use some amendments anyway) as did President Bush after Hurricane Katrina and there would be an honest-to-goodness “international community” effort to contain the oil damage in the Gulf. Shouldn’t that be just what our “citizen of the world” president loves?

Thirdly, and sadly unsurprisingly, Obama used this ecological and economic crisis to trash the private sector. Sure, BP is to be blamed. But that’s so obvious and done so extensively anyway that you have to wonder why the president has nothing better to do than to go on national TV and keep on pointing it out to everyone. Apparently, Obama hopes that he’s diverting attention from the undeniable fact that government’s regulatory bodies obviously failed to do the job they have been assigned with.

So, instead of helping, Obama makes a big show pointing his finger at BP and thereby causes additional harm. For one thing, Obama’s behaviour makes BP’s people busier with CYA activities than with trying to solve the oil spill problem. And for the other, it alienates the oil industry along with every part of the economy connected to it (well, that makes all of it), as well as the British of whom probably even the most rosy-glassed are beginning to see a pattern evolving in Obama’s treatment of their nation.

And on top of all that, Obama’s trying to use the incident to push his “green agenda”. The calculus seems to be that Americans are in a fit of panic over the oil spill and therefore prone to make an irrational choice in favour of something they consider to be economically damaging and environmentally meaningless. Obama also appears to be hoping that nobody notices the obvious option of allowing oil drillings in safer areas like ANWR or the shallower waters of the Pacific.

Obama’s reaction to the oil spill is a show case of government at its worst. Instead of pratical solutions there are counterproductive overreaction, misplaced national pride, finger pointing and attempts to misuse a bad situation for furthering unpopular policies. Obama’s behaviour is the “enlightened Westerner” version of the behaviour you sometimes see from some paranoid dictator of a third world country. Accordingly, the root cause for his weak performance in this situation must be the other similarities Obama has with dictators: a vision for “his” country that the governed don’t share with him, and excessive self-regard.

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