05/14/2010 02:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Crusade Against Big Oil

President Obama knew that much of his first term would probably be consumed by cleaning up the messes left behind by the Bush administration. He's well on his way to creating more jobs than George W. Bush did in two terms. He's pulling out of Iraq. Now he has another one to tackle -- the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The "cozy relationship" between government and industry that Obama denounced today in the Rose Garden may indeed be a "ridiculous spectacle," but it is hardly an accident. Quite the contrary. It was sedulously cultivated by Bush and Dick Cheney. They transformed much of American industry into a gigantic no-fly zone for government regulators. Instead of allowing regulators to regulate, industry was allowed to police itself. Enron executives met repeatedly with Cheney to draw up the administration's energy policy. Cheney, of course, took a special interest in gutting environmental regulations and in stocking the Interior Department with his stooges.

Real government oversight would mean closely examining government agencies rather than passively accepting their poor performance. Where will the next crisis erupt? For his part, Obama is finally awakening to the fact that he runs the government of the United States. His vow in the Rose Garden today to put an end to the "ridiculous spectacle" of oil companies passing the buck on the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico was another sign suggesting that he's going on the political offensive.

Writing in the May 13 London Review of Books, the perspicuous David Bromwich minutely inspects Obama's record over the past year to conclude that "Obama is still mystified by the idea that there are people who don't like him. His sense of personal invincibility was always accompanied by an extreme cautiousness. Many people think this has served him well at a time of crisis. I don't agree; I wish Obama had acted more boldly, and think he could have done so."

But perhaps that caution is beginning to give way to a righteous anger over the grievous harm done to America by his predecessor. Bush not only didn't want to govern, he actively disdained the idea. The costs are mounting. Will even a newly awakened Obama be able to contain them?

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