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Arrogance in the Executive

What the oil spill has revealed about the Obama presidency.

Jun 14, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 37 • By ANDREW B. WILSON
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In his analysis of the situation, Obama has been quick to blame this disaster on the supposed sins of free enterprise and private companies seeking private gain, the public be damned. Without citing any evidence of wrongdoing, he talked about the “oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators” and how that has meant “little or no regulation at all.” Clearly, it does not occur to him that the oil companies have a powerful motive to self-regulate—in light of the physical threat to their own workers and the huge potential damage to the long-term viability of their companies that awaits anything less than an exceptional safety performance.

In thinking so poorly of business and business people, it may be only natural for Obama to look upon himself and his friends from academia as being​—well—a cut above the ordinary (and quite possibly corrupt) people doing actuarial work for insurance companies, or toiling in the engineering departments of companies like BP. This holier-than-thou, smarter-than-everyone-else ivory tower elitism has unfortunately become a defining element of the Obama presidency.

Perhaps because it was so far-fetched—so bizarre even—few of the reporters covering the May 27 press conference picked up on the fact that Obama seemed to favor the idea of the federal government going into the business of marshalling the technology needed to fix the oil industry’s mistakes. “For now,” he disconsolately noted, “BP has the best technology, along with the other oil companies, when it comes to actually capping the well down there.” But in the future, he said, it might make sense for the government to take direct charge of such operations. 

Twice he lauded the contribution that Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, could make to recovery efforts in the Gulf. Never mind that Chu is known for his research in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. These are the president’s exact words: Chu “brought together a team, basically a brain trust, of some of the smartest folks we have at the National Labs and in academia to essentially serve as an oversight board with BP engineers and scientists in making calculations about how much mud could you pour down, how fast, without risking potentially the whole thing blowing.”

In the mind of this president, there seems to be nothing that government cannot do.

Andrew B. Wilson is a writer and business consultant.

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