Obama Learns Limits of Government -- Oil Spill Kicks His Hope and Change

Larry Elder
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Posted: Jun 17, 2010 12:01 AM
Obama Learns Limits of Government -- Oil Spill Kicks His Hope and Change

"He'll sit here," President Harry Truman said of future president Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, "and he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen. Poor Ike -- it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating."

President Barack Obama, in an Oval Office speech about the disastrous Gulf oil spill, described the federal effort to cap, contain, clean up and restore. He demanded that BP set up a fund to compensate those hurt by the spill -- setting aside whether he possesses the legal authority to require it. He assured us, as tens of thousands of gallons of oil belch out of the hole each day, he intends to hold people ... accountable! No mention of the 48-hour deadline -- now come and gone -- that he gave BP to, well, do more.

Poor President Obama -- this isn't a bit like community organizing. He must find it very frustrating.

Obama campaigned by promising to use government to hope and change America, Americans and the world. He offered an end to "partisan politics," where we break from the "past eight years" of (fill in the blank). Eisenhower spoke of the industrial-military complex -- the incestuous relationship between government and military contractors. Defense contractors want to sell weapons and systems. They hire lobbyists to influence policymakers, to attempt to convince them of the need for the procurement and to get government to contract them to build it. Similarly, oil companies try to influence, control and co-opt regulatory agencies like the Minerals Management Service. Apparently, this is news to the President.

Rush Limbaugh

Obama, the former asbestos remover, rejects the Founding Fathers' vision -- codified in the Constitution -- of a federal government limited to and restricted by its enumerated powers. Under Obama's vision, the ability of government to transform lives is limited only by our imagination.

Clean, renewable energy? "Invest" tax dollars. Affordable health care for all who want it? ObamaCare -- with the promise of better care for less money. College education for all? Government takeover of the student loan program with the promise of quality education at controlled costs.

Obamatons blame the spill on "eight years of deregulation under Bush." If Bush "deregulated" oil drilling, why has Obama threatened to prosecute BP for its alleged criminal failure to follow the regulations that Bush supposedly eliminated? If Bush's deregulation caused the spill, how did BP get permission to drill this well two months into the Obama administration -- and less than one month after submitting its application?

Pass a law. Start a program. "Invest." Regulate. Subsidize.

After 9/11, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, a new Cabinet-level department. In 2005, it created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Recent reports from the inspector general of the Justice Department and the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism conclude that the country remains scarily unprepared to stop and respond to another terror attack.

Government set up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reduce workplace deaths. They did, indeed, decline. But they were steadily declining for decades before OSHA, and the pace did not accelerate. The CEO of BP, when Obama finally gets around to meeting with him, will likely say, "It isn't good business to kill 11 workers by drilling a well that trashes the ecology, causes tens of billions of dollars in damages, and puts the survival of the company in jeopardy."

Several leftist pundits, in their post-speech analysis, provided comic relief. No specific plan! No timetable! Too much meritocracy! No real power! No command and control!

The same critics now find themselves trapped. They buried President George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina. They ignored the failure of the first responders and the local and state Democrats to follow existing plans. They called Bush inept, incompetent, even racist: If only Bush had been more intelligent, more adept, more eloquent, tragedy would have been avoided or at least minimized. They cut him no slack for dealing with, as here, something big, awful and unexpected.

Here is the inconvenient truth. The more government regulates, the greater the incentive of the regulated to influence the rules. Economists call this "regulatory recapture." Technology constantly evolves. Government has neither the expertise nor the agility to keep up. The answer is fewer rules, not more -- with the clear understanding that those who drill shall be completely responsible for screw-ups.

If those who make mistakes suffer the consequences of their actions, they will make fewer of them. And the same mistakes likely will not be made again. Still, expect the unexpected. We live in an imperfect world. But Obama's all-wise, all-knowing, all-caring government is perfectly poised to make things worse.