In defence of Obama

Obama Is Indulging in Shameless Populism Over Oil Spill – Iain Dale’s Diary.

I have a lot of respect for Iain Dale. His blog is a must read for those of all political persuasions. Why isn’t there a left-of-centre equivalent, I often wonder.

His analysis of President Obama’s handling of the Gulf coast oil spill is an instance where I feel moved to make a few comments. Basically, I think he’s wrong.

According to Mr Dale:

“Instead of coming out with anti British and anti oil company sentiment and pandering to populism, Obama should roll up his sleeves and give BP his and his government’s support in the clear up operation.”

I’m not sure that the Whitehouses’ quite justifiably robust response to BP after the worst spill in US history makes Obama “anti British and anti oil”. Far from it. On 27 May, the President outlined his support for the oil industry by recognising that “producing oil here in America is an essential part of our overall energy strategy.” But quite rightly, Obama demands that BP “pay every dime they owe for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that they’ve caused.”

The accusation by Mr Dale that the President is a “brazen populist” is equally off the mark. Indeed, in the US, he is more often labelled as “elitist” and “out of touch” with “real” Americans. I think he is neither “populist” nor “elitist”. He is a realist.

Whilst he has vented his frustrations at BP over the spill and recovery operations, Obama realises that ultimately, it is BP who possess the technology and expertise to help stop the leak. Quite unusually for a modern politician, Obama also tends to view events with a long-term perspective. He recognises the need to explore “any reasonable strategies to try and save the Gulf from a spill that may otherwise last until the relief wells are finished -– and that’s a process that could take months.”

Dale accuses Obama of “doing very little himself to help the situation”. Again, this is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. Obama has made it clear on numerous occasions that the federal government would support the clean-up operation. More than that:

Every key decision and action they [BP] take must be approved by us in advance…When they said they would drill one relief well to stem this leak we demanded a backup and ordered them to drill two. And they are in the process of drilling two.

The federal government is also directing the effort to contain and clean up the damage from the spill -– which is now the largest effort of its kind in U.S history…. so far we have about 20,000 people in the region who are working around the clock to contain and clean up this oil. We have activated about 1,400 members of the National Guard in four states. We have the Coast Guard on site. We have more than 1,300 vessels assisting in the containment and cleanup efforts. We’ve deployed over 3 million feet of total boom to stop the oil from coming on shore -– and today more than 100,000 feet of boom is being surged to Louisiana parishes that are facing the greatest risk from the oil.

 As we know, the oil spill has had an insufferable toll on local communities and wildlife around the Gulf. It is for that reason that Obama must continue to push BP to ensure it is doing all it possibly can to stop the leak and to fulfill its obligations by compensating those who have been affected. He must also continue to wield the considerable resources and manpower that the Federal Government has to help with the surface cleanup operations. Strangely enough, Mr Dale just might well agree with this “big-state” diagnosis.


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