There has been a lot of noise about the oil plume and the proper responsibility of government, but the real lesson is that, during Bush’s two terms, the media began to hold presidents culpable for many things that used to be attributed to tragedy, and also for things that are in large part the proper domain of local and state governments.
After Katrina – in which the mess was attributed to Bush rather than to the mayor of New Orleans, the governor of Louisiana, the miscalculations of generations of hydraulic engineers, and local communities’ lack of initiative — we were indoctrinated into the notion that “he,” the president, either fixes things or pays. The media, hurting after the 2004 election, either figured that a Democrat would not be president for a long time, or that nothing like Katrina would happen again, or that they, without much shame, could simply rewrite the rules of attributing culpability.
But Obama’s flight to “They did it” has been hard. Obama got more Wall Street and corporate money than did his Republican opponent; those contributors can’t be cast in the role of “they.” And “they” can’t be Bush; after 16 months, that argument has become shrill and monotonous. If Obama wants to philosophize, he will run up against this basic dilemma: Drilling at these depths is risky, but to transition to the next generation of new fuels without going broke, we must exploit what we have; oil drilling has risks and costs, just as do coal, nuclear, wind, gas, and solar power.
So if you can’t blame Bush or the big money and you can’t explain the disaster, you are left with the “I’m Obama, after all” voting-present strategy, which explains the deer-in-the-headlights reaction we are seeing now.