There now seems to be bipartisan consensus that Obama needs to Do Something about the BP oil spill. Or maybe he needs to Do More. Or Go Down To The Gulf. Since this seems to be the general consensus, I asked on twitter if there was something specifically that people want him to be doing? Despite my judicious use of the #oilspill hashtag, I did not get a response. At just about the same time, Dave Weigel indulged his sarcasm on the same topic. Then I turned on Hardball and heard about 45 minutes of Chris Matthews ranting about Obama's lack of engagement on the issue.
This strikes me as another instance where people just want visible action for its own sake. Do liberals really believe that Obama isn't doing everything he thinks is possible or necessary? He knows the stakes, he's aware of the "Obama's Katrina" rumblings, he's not just sitting on his tail. I get the feeling that Chris Matthews et al think Obama has a lot of spill-capping equipment hidden in the White House garage.
BP is taking point because they have the equipment and the know-how. The stories we've been hearing about how badly MMS is run make me less than thrilled about the possibility of them overseeing any of this. BP has the smarts and the know-how. Congressmen and senior administration officials assure us that every relevant scientist in the government is working on the problem. The solution is not for Obama to make grandiose gestures, it's for him to get smart people in the right places, and lean on BP. That's what he seems to be doing. The scale of the disaster is unprecedented, and they're working a mile below the water. It's not easy.
This reminds me of the height (or doldrums) of the health care debate. People were screaming that Obama should have "pivoted to jobs." Nobody actually said what could have been done about jobs. He had already ushered through a $787 stimulus package. Congress was paralyzed by deficit hawks and not likely to pass any more meaningful stimulus. The Fed did not want to loosen monetary policy. I suppose he could have shouted?
As for now, Obama could certainly set up camp in Mobile or New Orleans. But what would he really accomplish? BP has the equipment and the money. All he can do is put pressure on them to do the right thing. That's what he's doing. Until MMS stops snorting lines with the same oil industry folks they're supposed to be regulating, there's not much more to be done. In the after-action reports, we'll see if Ken Salazar has been negligent in changing the culture at Interior. But reversing eight years of damage isn't easy. Until we know more, all the screaming in the world isn't going to stop the oil from flowing. Let's cross our fingers that this "top kill" works.
The best thing that can be done right now is for Congress to raise the $75m cap on damages that oil companies are liable for. The Obama administration has come out in support of doing so, now it's up to congress.