Professor Matthew Dickinson of Middlebury College makes the argument that President Obama needs to get himself out of the Gulf oil spill mess by delegating the responsibility for the cleanup and taking a lower profile.
I don’t think that will work because the premise of the Obama Presidency was the idea that government can solve major problems. The argument was that the problem wasn’t the size of the government but the competency of the President. Voters on the left and right were, for different reasons, unimpressed with Bush’s management skills and commitments.
The implicit argument of Obama’s campaign was that someone with his intelligence could make government work. The inadequacies of Bush’s government were blamed, at least by the left, on Bush’s supposed mental inadequacy.
Obama consistently seeks to expand the role of government. He has pushed through a dramatic change in the medical care system in spite of overwhelming opposition in the public opinion polls. The early reports of the government rules for health plan say that as many as half of the employer plans will be deemed inadequate.
The creation of “government motors” and increasing control over the banking and financial systems mean we are ever more dependent on the competency of government. But, that is exactly what has been in question.
The worst possible scenario for a pro-government liberal administration would be a general consensus that government cannot be made to work. The networks are already reporting the conflict between governors in the affected states and the federal bureaucracies. The reported refusal to accept the help offered by more than a dozen foreign countries is also telling. Further, whatever the actual basis, the storyline is that Obama is willing to protect maritime workers by enforcing the Jones Act. The victims of this choice are the people and wildlife of the gulf.
The combination of bureaucratic inefficiency or incompetence, in combination with an administration seemingly willing to play favorites and make the disfavored pay a higher cost is deadly in the effort to get support for expanded government authority.
Even if Obama could reduce the impact on himself, which I doubt, the impact on the argument that the people can trust a larger government is dramatic. Existing legislation gives the President the authority and responsibility to get the spill cleaned up. If government cannot do what it is already committed to, why would anyone want to let it take more responsibilities?