Hindsight is 20/20, but politics always is in focus and dominating the behavior of the Pres. Barack Obama Administration, as Louisiana politicians have discovered.
Obama’s commissionto investigate the oil spill that dominated the political environment in Louisiana for three months earlier this year, despite being packed with those sympathetic to special interests normally allied with Obama, has been an uneven tool for the president in his quest to cast blame upon everybody but his administration for the slow resolution of it (such as in its revelations that the Obama Administration politicized the drilling moratorium response). A report issued today by the body reinforces this theme, making an attempt to dish out criticism of critics of Obama during this time period but doing so in a way that also in passing denigrates Obama’s leadership skills.
Most pertinent in the exercise, the panel concludes, lead by Republican Gov. Bobby JindalDemocrat Obama apparently got bludgeoned into supporting the Jindal-backed idea of building sand berms to catch oil. Critics derided the idea because they were overly concerned about the environmental impact and thought the money, being supplied completely by well-owner BP, could be spent on what they asserted were more productive enterprises – even as many including the federal government thought the berms then could be very effective.
Yet Jindal argued all along that even if, after all was said and done the berms didn’t catch much oil, that the possibility that a lot could be coming onshore outweighed other considerations – that is, the harm potentially would be so catastrophic that an uncertain protective measure such as this was justified, a point lost among almost all of the critics. Nobody apparently knows how many barrels got caught, at least several hundred and if that were all then as the sole use of this money it would have been deemed cost-effective only if the potential harm had not been so great – but that was not the situation at the time.
The commission frames the series of events as Jindal and others pressuring the federal government which seemed skeptical on his plan, but then Obama himself seemed to cave into the pressure and bureaucrats followed. Interestingly, the report leaves out one crucial determinant of the decision-making process– that between the time Louisiana officials cranked up the lobbying intensity and the decision being made to go with the berm idea, the initial “Top Kill” strategy to close the leak – which would go on for two more months – failed. Thus, likely in the minds of all involved including Obama and scientists, a tidal wave of oil very realistically could have hit the Louisiana coast where Jindal and the others argued for the berms to be built.
In that respect, the commission failed to understand the gravity and uncertainty of the situation – after all, if someone is being ravaged with cancer, typically doctors go for the most aggressive treatment possible even if its cost is tremendous, it may not be effective, and even if so treatment of much reduced severity and cost may have worked just as well. If the choice was an ecological disaster or not constructing berms, at least the berms had some chance of stopping some oil whereas not building them would give no chance of that outcome, regardless of how much oil might make it to that part of the shoreline. That the report claimed the use of funds for building berms “is not a compelling cost-benefit tradeoff” is absurd on its face in any realistic assessment of the threats at the time the decision.
That enormous risk alone made the building of the berms – at no expense to the taxpayer – justifiable, which the report grudgingly acknowledges in its admission that this review is hindsight. However, for the nation as a whole and especially for Louisiana taxpayers the berm building ended up being a masterstroke by Jindal, because they were built from the beginning in mind as the initial foray into a coastal restoration project. Craftily, Jindal leveraged an emergency protection measure into one that promises long-term protection against coastal erosion, putting the state light years ahead of where it otherwise would be on this priority in these cash-strapped times.
American taxpayers and, in particular, Louisianans should be grateful at the foresight Jindal and his team had on this issue, but the report barely makes reference to this in its haste to try to make Obama look better by criticizing those who carped about his lack of leadership on the issue. And with Jindal hanging around as a burgeoning national figure that can send liberalism and Democrats further into retreat no doubt added to the myopic bluster of this exercise.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport; his views are his own. He received his Ph.D. at the University of New Orleans and has observed state politics for over 25 years. You may contact him at [email protected], read his daily commentary “Between the Lines” at http://www.between-lines.com, and his “Louisiana Legislature Log” at http://www.laleglog.com, and follow these commentaries at Twitter by following “jeffsadow.”
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