Politics & Policy

Slick Strategy

Knee-jerk blaming and long-term thinking.

Once again, the American Left is at odds with itself over whether George W. Bush is the omniscient wizard or brainless Scarecrow. This time it didn’t take a tornado or contentious election to send them spiraling skyward toward an alternate Land of Oz where every conspiracy theory, no matter how contradictory, comes to vivid Technicolor life. The excuse this time was a hurricane politicized a full day before it came ashore.

So the question at hand seems to be: Which is it? Is Bush–as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Kayne West (among many others) would have us believe–a racist genius who plotted to stall rescuers as human beings died in the street based on the color of their skin? Did he appoint Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and Rod Paige purely so he’d have a nice diversity-supporting cover story when he finally got a chance to kill and displace a large number of blacks? And how did he ever pull the wool over the eyes of black officials in Mississippi and Louisiana long enough to surreptitiously enlist them in his dastardly plot?

Or–reverse direction–is he a dunce, who damned an entire section of the country to a watery end with short-sighted environmental policies? Was the Kyoto Protocol an insurance policy for New Orleans Bush tossed away like a rash, petulant child?

The charge of racism should be so self-evidently ridiculous that there is precious little hope of convincing someone who finds comfort believing it that it is not true. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine any of the “global warming caused Katrina” hysteria being quelled by James Glassman’s brilliant deconstruction of the myth last week.

If the absurd writings of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Sidney Blumenthal, and a number of Arianna Huffington’s Internet buddies are any indication, the Left believes a President Kerry would somehow have been better prepared and able to avert Katrina’s worst damages. While I’ll be the last to suggest Bush handled this crisis in a completely appropriate manner, Democrats’ recent hype about being the Party of Preparedness lacks an, um, intelligent design.

First of all, I don’t recall candidate Kerry arguing for a two or three-tiered levee system to be built in New Orleans during the 2004 campaign. (In a sane world, that failure would be evidence of the need for decentralizing control from a Leviathan federal government ill-equipped to understand nuance back to the individual states it lords over.) Also, whether Kerry’s Star Trek-style beaming system eliminating the need for all cars, SUVs, and Hummers (a job Al Gore was better suited for anyway) would have been completed and global warming cured eight months into his administration is questionable as well.

The Issue in Reserve

Further, during last year’s campaign Kerry suggested the federal government, “stop diverting oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until gas prices get back to normal.” Since “normal” apparently translates to a number unconnected to the laws of supply and demand, it is safe to say once the oil was diverted it would not soon be replaced. If Kerry was hoping for China or India to suddenly de-industrialize, it could take a good long while to get back to “normal” indeed.

Kerry was not alone or even the most extreme of the bunch. Throughout the campaign Carl Levin, Charles Schumer, and several other key Democrats openly endorsed using the nation’s strategic oil reserves to flood the market and drive down oil prices. Bush was ridiculed relentlessly by Schumer for refusing to budge from his November 2001 pledge to fill the reserves to capacity.

“That petroleum reserve is in place in case of major disruptions of energy supplies to the United States,” Bush told reporters when the idea of using it as a mechanism to lower gas prices began steadily gaining steam with Democrats eager to have a domestic issue–any domestic issue–to run on. “The idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror. We face a tough and determined enemy on all fronts, and we must not put ourselves in a worse position in this war, and playing politics with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would do just that.”

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, housed in underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana, was created in 1975. It was bandied about Washington, D.C. for decades beforehand, but it took the final straw of the 1973-74 Middle Eastern oil embargo to force the issue. At the time of the September 11 attacks, the reserve held 540 million barrels. With uncertain times ahead, Bush ordered the reserve filled to its 700 million barrel-plus capacity, releasing only a minor amount to combat disruptions during Hurricane Lilli in 2002 and Hurricane Ivan last year.

Now Hurricane Katrina hits, and suddenly there is a real emergency crippling a quarter of the nation’s refining abilities. Democrats might argue that with 700 million barrels in storage we could have afforded to deal with both Katrina and flood the market. What else could Sen. Schumer have meant when he called Bush’s decision to release millions of barrels of oil from the reserve, “a tiny baby step when a giant step is required”?

These are supposed to be the forward-thinking vanguard of the country? Imagine if Katrina had been coupled with an opportunistic terrorist attack on another refinery. Or if Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, smelling blood in the water (murderous brutes have good noses for that sort of thing), decided to make good on his oil-embargo threat. An Iranian newspaper editorial recently described oil as “the most potent economic weapon for settling scores with neocolonialist countries.” (That’s us.) Democrats’ idea of thinking ahead is apparently throwing away the one shield we have against that weapon.

In the final analysis, however, it was the environmentalists embedded in the core of the Democratic party, not Bush, who led the charge against building new refineries in America. It is the leaders of the Democratic party, not Bush, who have been urging a sell-down and whole-sale reduction of the nation’s frontline protection against natural and manmade energy disasters alike, the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, as part of a short-term price-fixing scheme. It is Democrats, not Bush, so gleefully willing to use this disaster for political gain even as some in New Orleans and elsewhere await rescue.

So who’s shortsighted? Maybe the Left ought not to throw the stones at Bush so quick.

Shawn Macomber is a Boston-based freelance writer. He runs the website www.returnoftheprimitive.com.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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