Does anyone still believe we need less government?
Despite an unprecedented string of failures and catastrophes, it took the horrors of Katrina for many Americans finally to realize the extent of the incompetence of the Bush Administration. For many, it also was the moment they awakened to the danger of the Reaganite conservative mantra of "less government." Given the choice between a social contract based on shared responsibility or watching an entire city drown in a bathtub of blood, people of conscience realized they had no choice. And here we are, just a handful of years later, and a Tea Party movement that deplores government enjoys a whopping 2% public support, but a lot more media coverage than that 2% merits. And the Republican Party continues its decrepit denigration of the institution that brings us such apparently irrelevant conveniences as national security, the social safety net, justice, civil rights, fundamental infrastructure, and environmental protection.
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, writing about the BP Oil Spill, points to Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal, a typical Republican critic of government:
"The strength of America is not found in our government," Jindal declared in his response to President Obama's February 2009 address to Congress. "It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens."
But with his state facing an environmental disaster of unknown proportions, Jindal is looking for a little strength from Washington. His beef is that the federal government isn't doing enough to help.
How is the compassionate heart and enterprising spirit of BP working out, governor? Is BP going to clean your shores and wetlands, regulate the rest of the oil wells gurgling off your coast, and help your state's impacted businesses and workers get back on their feet?
Dionne doesn't let the Obama Administration off the hook, but this isn't about blaming government for not capping the spill quickly enough.
So there you have it: "Do something!" citizens shout to a government charged with protecting the environment in and around a Gulf of Mexico that is nobody's private property. Yet the government, it seems, can't do much of anything because the means of stopping the flow of oil are entirely in the hands of a private company. BP was trusted to know what it was doing with complicated equipment that, it would appear, it either didn't understand very well or was willing to use recklessly.
But the truth is that we have disempowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions.
Republicans whining about the Obama Administration's imperfect response to the spill need to be called on their hypocrisy. Particularly given that Bush/Cheney incompetence, once again, played a critical role in allowing a disaster to happen. And Democrats need to continue to urge the Administration to make of this moment a call for a demonstration of the greatness that can be government. To hold BP and Transocean accountable. To ensure through vigorous regulation and enforcement that something like this never happens again. To galvanize the public to the urgent necessity of ending our addiction to fossil fuels.
President Obama has begun to stress the need for more clean renewable energy sources. He has imposed a temporary moratorium on deep water drilling. We need to celebrate and support him as he makes such moves. We need to do our civic duty by pushing him to make that moratorium permanent, and to bring Manhattan Project urgency to the development of clean renewable energy sources. And we need always to remind both ourselves and others that this is why competent government is so necessary, and why Republican hatred of government leads to catastrophe.