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.