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Elizabeth Bisbee Silber

Elizabeth Bisbee Silber

Posted: May 3, 2010 03:59 PM

On Laissez-Faire Government, the Oil Spill, and Conservative Hypocrisy

What's Your Reaction:

I know this is Jason Linkins' terrain, and he does it much better, but I simply must comment on today's installment of "This Week".

First, Lamar McKay of BP consented to an extraordinary interview with Jake Tapper. Mr. McKay expressed no remorse, personal or otherwise, over the spill and its catastrophic impact. He acknowledged Tapper for offering condolences over the 11 killed in the initial explosion, then grudgingly worked his way through obvious corporate talking points.

What struck me most about the interview was that McKay several times cited the company's close partnership with the government in confronting the crisis. Tapper pointed out the irony at work here, as BP recently authored a memo strongly opposing tighter governmental regulation and oversight of the oil and gas industry, and insisting any dangers inherent in its offshore drilling enterprises could be handled by the company, no problem. So hands off, government! Until we need a hand, that is, because our systems failed to do what they were supposed to and now we need your resources, the very existence of which we abhor, to save us from ourselves. McKay seemed to miss the irony, though, and insisted that safety was the company's number one priority. Yes, I'm sure it is, with environmental concerns a close second and profits a distant third.

McKay was followed by Secretaries Napolitano and Salazar, and the Coast Guard's Thad Allen. The three government employees outlined the Obama Administration's response to the disaster, and had satisfying answers to Tapper's queries about the appropriateness of the measures being taken. They seemed deeply concerned, but also refreshingly competent. A nice contrast to BP's ineptitude thus far.

But the climax of "This Week" came during the panel discussion, when both Matthew Dowd and George Will attempted to square the circle of conservative hypocrisy over the size and role of government. This hypocrisy certainly extends to the immigration debate, but I'll focus on the oil spill.

Let's start with Dowd, who is usually quite measured and rational in his views. Not today. According to this former Bush advisor, though the oil spill is not Obama's Katrina, it, along with the recent mining disaster, legitimizes the country's concerns about the effectiveness of government, and its role in problem solving. I find this amazing. For the better part of the last decade, safety and environmental concerns were downplayed and even ignored, because the Bush Administration didn't want to hinder the operations of the energy industry. Suddenly, those who demanded the government not interfere in industry operations, and who asserted that the magical forces of the market and good corporate citizenship would mitigate all risks and address all potential hazards, are shedding crocodile tears. Ironically, the same people who objected strenuously over the past few years to any government oversight now lament the fact that government is not sufficiently large, equipped or empowered to deal with these kinds of calamities.

But the real stunner in the discussion came from George Will. An antidote to Dowd's hypocrisy, Will shot straight about the true conservative position with regard to corporate profits versus public safety. He basically shrugged his shoulders in response to the spill, and very superciliously noted that "getting our sources of energy has risks," then bloodlessly reminded us of the 29 miners in West Virginia who recently perished. This came after a mystifying swipe at President Obama for, I guess, wanting to take steps to address the damage caused by the spill. Will's spectacular display of callousness hearkens back to an era before governmental oversight and industry reforms. It should also remind Americans why they have more to fear from unregulated industry than they do from an active federal government.