Dragging drearily and endlessly on, the Gulf oil calamity did not help Obama, the Democrats and the progressive cause as the mid terms approached. This is ironic in that Obama et al. do not bear the primary responsibility for creating the entirely man made mess, and there is not a whole lot he and they can do about it. It is all the more ironic that the national crisis that has no end date is largely the fault of Republican style economic libertarianism. Remember back when those pesky liberals and Dems complained about Dick Cheney having those secret meetings with the fossil fuel industry in the first year of the Bush administration? And how the whining libs warned we would end up regretting how Big Oil and friends got the big breaks while a few crumbs were thrown to alternative energy? The progressives were of course correct, but it is not doing them much good while it improves the immediate prospects of the right.
How do the conservatives get away with this? Those on the right have a tactical advantage. It is not the goal of many if not most conservatives to actually govern the country because they want the get rid of as much government as possible. Instead they wish to perpetually rule the nation, using their power to cut the corporations as much slack as they can get away with (for the extreme expression of this world-view see click here). It is therefore in their interest to run things as badly as they can get away with. Then, when the incompetent government they helped create screws up, conservatives can cheerfully point to yet another example of how the government can never get things right. It is a cynical and remarkably effective tactic that Thomas Frank has described in and as The Wrecking Crew.
The conservative method does, however, have its limitations at the higher strategic level, ones that can and do backfire with enough force to help prevent the right from achieving their ultimate economic libertarian dreams. The blow back of governmental incompetence is of course worse when the Republicans are in charge. The problem is that as much as many Americans resent and complain about Big Government, the majority actually like lots of BG, including in response to large-scale emergencies. During the Clinton years the politically savvy administration went to considerable effort to build FEMA into a well-run operation that did a solid job dealing with a number of emergencies, earning brownie points for Democratic rule. When Bush II managed to capture the White House he followed his father's heritage of turning over FEMA to an incompetent party hack and lived to regret it after Katrina.
The high-risk Repub strategy works best when something blows up after the Democrats have taken charge but have not had the time or astute proficiency to correct the defects the GOP left behind. In effect, left over Republican policies become landmines ready to explode and damage succeeding Democrats if the latter do not detect and defuse them fast enough. This is what happened with off shore drilling. In other 1st world nations regulations are often much stricter up in Canada a relief well has to at considerable expense be put into place along with the main well just in case things go seriously south. Our Minerals Management Service became so relaxed and outright corrupt under Bush-Cheney that the oil companies could pretty much do what they wanted. This does not mean the corporations went entirely slack -- it does not do them a whole lot of good to have a big blow out -- so they did well enough to avoid a disaster for many years. But the day-to-day pressures to minimize costs leads to cutting safety corners on the premise its worked so far so why worry as long as government reps are signing off on the inspection forms. The complacency led the industry to lobby against having to put in a relief well with each new system, and the Bush-Cheney administration happily complied. So BP got away with using a defective wellhead that a tighter regulatory regimen would have blocked. Nor did the off shore oil industry bother to invest in advancing the state of post spill clean up technologies and capacity.
Had the BP calamity occurred prior to 2009 then it would have further and severely damaged the already wounded Republican brand. Had the explosion and blow out occurred in 2009 it would not done the GOP any good, but would not have harmed the Democrats so much who would have noted that it was the fault of the system they inherited and had not had time to repair, or to organize to deal with. That it happened in 2010 is a mixed bag. In logical terms it cannot be blamed on the new Democratic minerals management system that was put into place because the Dems never got around to putting a new system in place. So it is appropriate to attribute the bulk of the BP disaster to the heritage left by the Repubs, who in ethical terms are not in a position to complain not that that will stop them. But the Democrats cannot pass the entire buck to the GOP crowd. The Obama team not only failed to dramatically overhaul the regulatory system in his first year, the President in his search for the center endorsed a major expansion of off shore oil operations, going so far to explain at one public appearance that the marine drilling has become reasonably safe now Mr. President, surely you have heard Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen." Let this be a lesson to Democrats to do a better job cleaning up after the Republicans although the later have become skilled at hindering the Democrats by first wrecking so much stuff that it is not possible to repair the damage in just a year or two, and by delaying the upper and middle tier appointments Democrats need to regenerate good governance.
Also bad for the Democrats was the rather stealthy nature of the early stages of the Gulf mess. One reason that Bush II caught it after Katrina was because it was all too obvious that a big hurricane was heading for a city that everyone knew was inadequately protected due to a failure of big government to be big enough to properly protect impoverished New Orleans. You had to be way off your game to not be ready for that one. The BP affair in contrast started out rather low key, it was hard to see at first how much oil was being dumped into the gulf, all the more so since it turned out that a lot of it is not making it the whole mile to the surface and is floating around hidden at depth. For weeks the slicks seemed to hover off the coasts, not quite making it to land in a big way, sparing us the dreadful images of dying animals, while BP made overoptimistic predictions of its ability to stem the oil flow while minimizing its volume. It sort of snuck up, although Obama and company should have known better than to trust Big Oil.
The short-term injury to the Democrats may prove fairly serious. But as noted above the inherently dysfunctional tactic of Republican nongovernance has its strategic risks, and the BP catastrophe is hurting their long-term project to remake the nation along economic libertarian lines. It was the Paleyian Repubs who not so long ago were chanting with orgasmic enthusiasm the they-knew-it-was-a double entendre "drill baby drill" while the liberals rolled their eyes. The conservatives will never be able to deploy that now painfully embarrassing slogan again. Although the progressive alternative chant "regulate, baby, regulate" does not have equivalent visceral appeal, the BP affair is adding to the new level of American skepticism of the naÃ¯ve conceit of libertarian Republicans that the corporations can be trusted to do the right thing are Repubs really incapable of learning that their ideology is a crock? It is a national learning experience when the Republican governor of Louisiana who not so long ago was complaining about Obama style "socialism' is now on his knees begging the Feds to send more big government assistance right now please, and praising the President for his repeated visits and increased federal action (click here Pulling-Our-Legs-When-They-Say-Big-Government-is-Bad-for-America-and-Bad-for-Them).
As bad as the BP mine has been, it pales in comparison to the super torpedo left over by the Repubs, the economy. The inevitable collapse of deregulated, high-risk financial pyramid system they - with help from searching for the center Democrats -- put in place is one reason why the Dems gained power in the first place. But the economic injury is so deep that the sluggish jobs recovery is now doing the Democrats political harm. The latter are in a bind. If they did not raise the deficit with stimulus spending to boost jobs the credit strapped private sector cannot produce they would catch it, but the resulting deficits are driving voters to the Republicans who got us into this mess and will do so again if they get the opportunity. The conundrum the Republicans created is good for their near term electoral hopes. Just how much so we will soon see, there is some evidence that enough Americans are recalling how badly the right runs things that GOP gains may be blunted this election - or maybe not. But the disproof of Republican laissez-faire economics is not going to help out the GOP over the years.
Then there is the Iraq/Afghanistan foreign policy jam that incompetent Republican governance laid in the lap of the Obama administration.
It is a scientific fact that humans are not particularly rational, which is why wild west capitalism does not work as well as its advocates think it should libertarians are not particularly rational about these things so voters are prone to lashing out in an illogical manner when things are not going good. What Americans need to ask them selves this election cycle is whether for all the Democrats' faults, is it really a good idea to give more power to the Republicans whose policies are most responsible for the crappy situations we are in? And Democrats need to remember that when the replace Republicans as the governing party they are The Cleaning Crew, so get down and clean up the mines the Repubs left behind before they go boom.