A Teachable Moment For Malia

This past Thursday, President Obama gave his first press conference in nearly a year and received a lot of questions about the Administration’s response to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In his typical style, the President managed to blame British Petroleum (correctly?), the Bush administration (incorrectly, but by now it’s a verbal tic), and to insist that he (the President) is on top of the entire situation and that he is in control of the response. To highlight the emotional gravity of the situation, he told the press corps how his daughter Malia came to him and asked “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?

When I woke this morning and I’m shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” Because I think everybody understands that when we are fouling the Earth like this, it has concrete implications not just for this generation, but for future generations.

I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying, that doesn’t just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this; this speaks to how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have.

And so sometimes when I hear folks down in Louisiana expressing frustrations, I may not always think that they’re (sic) comments are fair; on the other hand, I probably think to myself, these are folks who grew up fishing in these wetlands and seeing this as an integral part of who they are — and to see that messed up in this fashion would be infuriating.

So the thing that the American people need to understand is that not a day goes by where the federal government is not constantly thinking about how do we make sure that we minimize the damage on this, we close this thing down, we review what happened to make sure that it does not happen again.

I can certainly understand where Malia is coming from. Her father is the most powerful man in the world when you get right down to it, and she’s only 11 years old. But this was, as the President has been known to say, a “teachable moment” for his daughter, and for the President himself.

The oil spill in the Gulf is an environmental catastrophe. Oil is pouring out of a hole in the ocean floor and creating an enormous amount of damage to the immediate eco-system, as well as obliterating the livelihoods of those Gulf residents who make their living as fishermen. The financial cost of this will likely run into the billions, and the environmental impact is staggering. What President Obama needs to understand, and what he should have told Malia, is that there isn’t anything the Federal Government of the United States can do about it at this time.

That isn’t to say that the Federal Government plays no role here. In a very real sense, this is a defense of our nation and the Feds do play an important part. But when it comes to “plugging the hole,” the Federal Government, for all of its trillions of dollars and millions of employees, is useless. Unless the President can somehow recruit Aquaman to join the ranks of the Administration, the government is powerless when it comes to stopping the leak.

The Left keeps insisting that conservatives are saying that this is “Obama’s Katrina,” but I think most of that talk is coming from those who believe in an all-powerful government. Conservatives…at least the ones that I read and with whom I speak…understand that the oil leak is not Barack Obama’s fault and that the government is not responsible for plugging the leak. I assume that Barack Obama also knows this, which is why I find it so odd that he keeps insisting otherwise.

The Federal government’s role in all of this is to give whatever help it can to the Gulf states to prevent the oil from washing up on shore. That may mean using the Army Corps of Engineers to create sand berms that will act as a natural blockade. It may mean something else entirely. And this is where President Obama is, in fact, failing. When Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said that he wanted to create sand berms he got held up in a Federal bureaucracy as the government told him that he could not build the barriers until they had completed an “environmental impact” assessment. Are they kidding? Millions of gallons of oil are heading towards the shore and we need to see if creating some sand bars might harm the environment? This is government at its worst: slow, ineffective, bound by red tape. Obama should tell Jindal that he has the green light to do whatever is effective and we’ll worry about the red tape later. “Need men? Here’s the National Guard. Need underwater help? Let’s bring in the Navy. Would a submarine be useful? Here you go.”

Short of providing that type of help, the simple truth remains that our government is not all-powerful. There are things that happen in this world that the government can not prevent, nor turn back. What happened on that oil rig was a horrible accident and maybe there are ways of preventing this type of accident from ever happening again. But there are no ways of preventing some other type of accident from happening. Accidents happen and sometimes people are to blame because they cut corners or were inattentive to warning signs. The time for determining whether British Petroleum is at fault for the accident, as distinct from being responsible for the effects, will come. In the meantime, Obama should tell his daughter that there are many aspects of life that the President simply can not control, that he is willing to give whatever help BP or the Gulf states need to stop this mess but that, in the end, he must leave the effort in the hands of those who have the skills to do the job. Yes, BP has failed so far, but we are in uncharted waters. When you need to stop an oil leak a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, you need to call in those companies that have the knowledge of the subject and the equipment to do the work. The last people you should call are politicians.

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