Archive for June, 2010

Whose in charge?

June 16, 2010

Last evening the common response of those commenting on the President’s speech was distress that he had not really made it clear to the American public that he was in charge of the oil spill and of recovery from it.  This view of things began approximately one to two weeks after the spill began.  Initially, most folks recognized that it was BP that had caused the spill, and therefore, it was BP that was responsible for capping the spill and cleaning up after it.  

 But when time went on and the oil kept gushing from the well and spreading out over the Gulf the entire development came to be perceived as a national catastrophe which the federal government was responsible to manage, including stopping the gushing and spearheading the recovery.  The fact that the spill continues and that at best the recovery only drags along leads folks to charge the president with a failure of leadership in handling this crisis.

To charge the President with a failure of  leadership in this crisis is at best naive, and at worst downright perverse.  It is naive if it fails to recognize the controlling realities that give shape to this crisis.  It is perverse if it undermines such leadership as the President is providing and deflects public attention away from those controlling realities.

The controlling realities are:

first,  that the crisis was created by a private coroporation, BP, that put a higher premium on earning profits for shareholders than on looking after the safety of its workers and the reduction of the risks surrounding its activities;

second, that neither BP (nor any other oil companies)  have developed technologies or protocols for addressing the possibility of  failures such as that of  the Deep Horizon well and the potential aftermath that would follow from such failures;

third, that whether the federal government should or should not have anticipated such failures and developed the necessary technologies and protocols for addressing them, this was never on any politician’s agenda, nor were the American people pressing the government to do so;

fourth, that any extant technology for adressing well failures or spill recovery is owned and under the management of BP, and by extension other oil companies and related industries;

fifth, and most importantly, were the President to insist that he is in charge, and to claim that he was taking charge, this would in effect shift responsibility from BP to the federal government, even though the federal government as such was powerless either to cap wells, or to put in place the equipment and operations necessary to contain the spill;

sixth, if from the outset the President had insisted on being in charge of capping the flow and containing the spill, he would have committed political suicide;  much lesser agressive measures relative to the nation’s financial institutions and the major automobile industries have led to charges as extreme as socialism and nazism.  The President is accused by all of his opponents of exceeding the limits of reasonable federal power.  What would they have thought if he had in fact taken control of BP, which would have been the only way that he could have effectively taken control?

It is time to recognize that we all share in the consequences of the gulf catastrophe and that it is, therefore, in our mutual interest to support  the President in his efforts to hold BP accountable and responsible for both capping the well and cleaning up the mess.  The President should not take charge of a situation created by private industry and for the resolution of which private industry holds all of the available technology and equipment , however inadequate that technology and equipment may be.