The night he locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama predicted that generations hence, people would look back on the historic day as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." At the time, his words reeked of hubris. Today, they look positively delusional.
President Obama can't stop the oil leak in the Gulf, but he can and should be held accountable for the inept government response to cleaning it up and mitigating its worst effects on the shoreline. And you can bet that if George W. Bush were in the Oval Office, the media would be blaming the president for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. But they're largely giving Obama a pass, implying that small-government conservatives have no room to complain when government fails to live up to its responsibilities.
Believing in limited government isn't the same thing as believing in no government. Even hard-core libertarians believe that the federal government is responsible for providing for the common defense of the nation. All the small-government conservatives I know believe that government has responsibility to protect the citizenry from attack -- it's the primary reason we pay taxes and live in a civil society.
Granted, millions of gallons of oil washing up onshore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is not the same thing as a military or terrorist attack -- but it is an environmental assault that requires federal government action. But the Obama administration's response was slow and ineffective. The president's first reflex was to try to distance himself from the crisis, hoping Americans would blame BP and leave his administration out of the picture. When that didn't work, he opted for photo-ops on the damaged shoreline and angry rhetoric. Now, nearly two months into the crisis, he's decided to use the oil spill to advance his own policy agenda, namely cap-and-trade legislation that would make energy more expensive and punish consumers.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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