But all that said, we're learning some disturbing things about our President in the midst of crisis. Namely, he's acting much more like the community organizer he is and not the decisive chief executive we both need and had hoped for. Too much has been made of the fact that Obama took nine days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon well on April 20 to visit the Gulf. While that's important in a symbolic way, it's not substantive and everyone knows that.
What is substantive, however, is Obama's lack of an aggressive, decisive response to the tragedy. Here are some examples:
- In the early days after the explosion, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal requested the federal government's help in constructing a series of sixteen sand berms along the Louisiana coast to protect the precious marsh lands from incoming oil. The Washington Post reported that Jindal "reached out to the marine contractor Van Oord and the research institute Deltares to assist with the project...and BP pledged $360 million for the plan". But when U.S. dredging companies and their labor unions objected to foreign dredging companies' involvement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated they would need to conduct an environmental impact study to determine what damage might be done by construction of the berms--this while millions of gallons of oil were headed toward the coast to do untold environmental damage to the coast!
- Norway offered to provide a chemical dispersant said to be superior to the one used by BP with less harm to the ocean's sea life. It was rejected by the EPA.
- In the weeks following the explosion, offers were received from Norway, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia to send ships, skimming equipment, and other materiel to the Gulf Coast to assist in the clean-up and to attempt to capture as much oil as possible before it reached the coast. But thanks to a 1920's-vintage law called the Jones Act which prohibits foreign vessels and crews from entering American waters, such offers were not accepted and could not be accepted unless President Obama waived the Jones Act. To this day--more than 60 days after the explosion--such a waiver has not been granted by the President.
- On May 5, the State Department reported that it had received thirteen foreign offers of help and that it would assess those offers and respond within 48 hours to determine which of the offers they might accept. Two weeks later, the Department finally responded--accepting none of the offers for help.
- In early June, sixteen skimming vessels were finally deployed to the Gulf to vacuum as much oil as possible before it hit the beaches. Incredibly, the Coast Guard immediately took the vessels temporarily out of service to determine if they had a sufficient number of life vests on board.
An activist, involved, decisive Chief Executive would have swept the bureaucratic red tape aside. He would not have appointed blue ribbon panels of experts, including--as Obama has repeatedly pointed out--his "Nobel Prize winning Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar" to advise him, all of whom have twiddled their thumbs while the oil gushes into the Gulf. Instead, a decisive leader would have become directly involved--inviting all offers of assistance and working with the Coast Guard to coordinate their equipment and crews. He would have told the labor unions to pound sand--that this was no time for politics or protecting union jobs, but that it was a national emergency requiring the best minds and more able and trained hands than the U.S. was capable of mounting on its own. He would not only have approved Governor Jindal's request to construct berms, but he would have told the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and any other bureaucracy to step aside while the work was getting done and sue him later if they chose to.
Instead, the oil continues to gush. The only hope--the only hope now--is the successful drilling and construction of two relief wells which are being drilled and which, we are told, will be operational sometime in early August. Clean-up efforts are, according to CNN and The New York Times, not well-coordinated. There's just not enough equipment being deployed and what is there is not being deployed in the right places.
In short, it's a fiasco.
On February 20, 2009--during a visit to the Gulf Coast--President Obama told the residents this: "The residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast...are succeeding despite the fact they have not always received the support they deserved from the federal government. We must ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated."
Now, a little over a year later, they most certainly are.