That BP should have been held responsible for the damage it caused is not in question. But we have laws and procedures for this sort of thing. Or we once did. We are not accustomed to presidents arbitrarily ordering private actors to make restitution. You might have expected this high-handedness to alarm civil libertarians among the press corps. No, all of the press's outrage was expended on a Texas congressman who mentioned that BP was the target of a "shakedown." It was.
At the same time, the president used the spill as an excuse to shut down drilling in the Gulf altogether for an extended period. A federal judge issued an injunction against the moratorium and later declared the Obama administration to be "defiant." "Such dismissive conduct, viewed in tandem with the re-imposition of a second blanket and substantively identical moratorium," wrote Judge Martin Feldman, " . . . provide this court with clear and convincing evidence of the government's contempt." Undeterred, the administration switched tactics and simply stopped issuing new permits -- a clear abuse of regulatory discretion.
The economic effects have been severe to a region already damaged by Katrina and the spill itself. An industry group, Greater New Orleans, Inc. reports that 50 percent of businesses have laid off employees due to the moratorium; 76 percent have lost cash reserves; and 46 percent have moved all or some of their businesses away from the Gulf region.
What, except overweening contempt for law, can explain President Obama's decision to give Charles Cordray a recess appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when the Senate was not in recess? "What I'm not going to do is wait for Congress," Obama told "60 Minutes." "So whenever we have an opportunity and I have executive authority . . . we're just going to go ahead." Or even without executive authority apparently.
Last week the president returned to bullying the Supreme Court (He had done so once before, during a State of the Union address). The president warned the court that its legitimacy was suspect because its members are "unelected." This is brutish talk from any political figure, all the more from one who preens that he taught constitutional law. What's next? Warning that Obamacare is all that stands between the justices and the pitchforks?
Hugo Chavez is ailing. But his spirit is thriving in the White House.