Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. If you're an elected official, political operative or anyone else upset at his views, don't go bothering LSUS or LSU System officials about that because these are his own views solely.
This publishes Sunday through Thursday with the exception of 7 holidays. Also check out his Louisiana Legislature Log especially during legislative sessions (in "Louisiana Politics Blog Roll" below).
Unfortunately, because federal government competence, particularly in emergency management, was a campaign issue for Democrat Pres. Barack Obama, politics continues to interfere with and distort understanding of the Louisiana oil spill response put in by all levels of government. As Obama’s response has become increasingly political, there has been a major pushback by his supporters and fellow-traveling institutions to impose a template absolving him of the placement of ideology over competence in his administration’s reaction. In turn, this has attempted to create a template attempting to define the state’s and particularly Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s reaction as precisely that. Parsing fact and fiction in the situation helps us to prevent the templates from interfering with a valid understanding of the situation.
One template asserts that Obama has done all that reasonably the federal government could regarding the spill. In fact, in part, Obama dawdled from the start because his brand of politics rests upon the idea that America is a deeply and inherently flawed nation that needs an infusion of transformative liberalism for its repentance. Thus, he had little interest in dealing with this ordinary question of government management – until the escalating crisis began to have political ramifications for his larger ideological agenda.
Indeed, he set the tone in the earliest days of the crisis when repeated offers of foreign assistance were turned down by him as a sop to his union allies. Unlike Pres. George W. Bush who immediately waived the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to allow for such help, Obama refused to allow foreign built, owned, or operated vessels (with the necessary manpower and equipment to start containing the spill) to ply U.S. offshore waters. This postponed not only cleanup but prevention measures as the only ones undertaken were by fewer American workers and ships than could have been deployed and only after training that crucially delayed that response.
Then, as Jindal and Louisiana became increasingly assertive not only in demanding that a way be found to cap the leak (aimed at BP) but also in asking for preventive measures to keep oil from damaging the state’s coast, for two reasons the Obama Administration began to resist the state’s efforts. First, the mere fact of the state’s moving forward would make the federal government look clumsy and immobile. Second, the state’s preferred strategy of using sand berms that in essence would create six-foot-high barrier islands simulating those that once existed raised concerns among a key Obama constituency, the leftist wing of the environmental movement. (It also appears that environmental laws played a role in refusing foreign cleanup assistance.)
Thus, the next phase has seen another template propagated, that Jindal and Louisiana were rushing into reactions out of a combination of panic and desire to score political points against Obama. The major offensive in this regard involved questioning of the use of the berms, the operative meme being that they would be ineffective.
But as far as a short-term solution, joining many experts both domestic and foreign the federal government itself acknowledges that, unless some very unfortunate chance event occurs (such as a large hurricane that could overtop and perhaps degrade the berms), the berms will be very effective tools in keeping oil from washing into tidal marshlands. In the long term, their construction and existence may, without any certainty, cause some environmental degradation. So it becomes a balancing act: Jindal argues correctly that these will have an immediate salutary effect on the ecosystem (and won’t cost taxpayers a cent because BP is footing the bill) and he doesn’t even add that after the oil is gone they can help to conserve the coastline, while opponents point to vague threats that may never materialize, and do not address the fact that if any future damage ever even results that it is likely to be less extensive and costly than what destruction will be wrought now with certainty by failing to inhibit as much as possible the spreading oil.
The Obama Administration itself admitted as much the rectitude of Jindal’s view when it finally approved of the building of the berms about a month after the state first requested them, but it kept a rear guard action going against them that manifested when it cut off dredging the sand to build them out of environmental concerns. Again, that move was all based upon contingencies and was of dubious legality, as the state was dredging in the permitted area and the state pointed out the environmental concerns seemed dubious on face. Even if there was a possibility of damage by the dredging, halted since then, prudence should triumph over ideology: the faster they get built with certainty one the more reduction in damage happens now, as opposed to very nebulous, uncertain, and almost certainly far less in cost damage later.
Regrettably, this latest incident shows the Obama Administration continues to keep putting special and political interests ahead of good policy. Subconsciously unable or consciously unwilling to understand the subtext as if holding up a mirror in trying to paint Jindal and Louisiana as too eager to do anything out of political concerns, fellow travelers end up reflecting the essential truth that it is Obama who does too little in order to comport to his ideology and political considerations.