The BP oil spill, President Obama, Jewish environmentalists - and mixed-up voters
05/23/2010 - 11:16
James Besser

Isn't the disaster that's still unfolding down in the Gulf of Mexico an almost perfect illustration of what's wrong with American politics?

Everybody's complaining about the lax federal response – including those factions that want to cut government until it's small enough to drown it in the bathtub, to use one of their popular expressions.

Tea Party activists and Republicans, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, call for smaller government and less regulation, but every time there's a disaster that affects their own communities – a hurricane, flooding, a big oil spill – they howl that they're not getting enough help from the very federal government they despise, using tax money they want to cut.

Politicians talk about government as an absolute evil – "let the market take care of things," they preach – but complain bitterly that there's not enough regulation when the financial markets collapse, or when an oil company's practices in pursuit of profits wrecks vast natural habitats and the livelihoods of thousands.

And while we're at it: we complain that Democrats and Republicans alike are hooked on campaign contributions from big polluters, but we keep re-electing the same lawmakers even when know how much loot they take from the BPs of the world. And we routinely shun politicians who demand serious campaign finance reform.

Doesn't make much sense, does it?

It's sort of like earmark spending. Voters hate, absolutely hate earmarks – unless they're for projects in their own communities, in which case they love earmarks and consistently reward the senators and House members who convince their colleagues to pass them by promising to vote for their earmarks.

That's what congressional earmarks are all about: 535 Capitol Hill lawmakers frantically adding pork to government spending because that's what the folks back home demand, even as those same voters complain bitterly about earmarks going to other states and districts.

I keep hearing that the BP oil spill could be President Obama's Hurricane Katrina.

Well, maybe; his administration's response has been hard to figure out, and I still haven't heard a coherent explanation of the gap between Obama's pledge to expand offshore drilling and his concern about the environmental carnage now underway.

But I'm guessing he faces much bigger problems as congressional midterms approach and as his political team starts to fret about 2012, starting with the sputtering economic recovery.

The BP mess is causing big problems with Obama's liberal base. Conservatives see a socialist surge enveloping the White House (the same “socialism” that supported health care reform that forces people to buy health insurance from private insurance companies; Karl Marx is probably spinning in his grave). But to many liberals Obama is a compulsive centrist who has turned his back on them, and what they see as his relatively tame response to the oil spill – and his earlier pledge to expand offshore exploration and drilling – prove the point.

But where will the disillusioned progressives go? Sarah Palin? Some loopy Green Party candidate? Rep. Dennis Kucinich, possibly the nation's next Harold Stassen? Don't bet the rent.

One more thing on the oil spill: a long list of Jewish groups say both environmental protection and energy independence are among their top goals. But the number of groups that have said anything about the BP oil spill and what it means for those issues remains pathetically small.  They include the Jewish Funds for Justice , which has opened its Gulf Coast Disaster Recovery Fund, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. 

Could it be that most Jewish groups are interested in environmental protection and energy independence only when it doesn't involve difficult political choices - which means they're not really interested at all? Does the word credibility mean anything to you guys?

 

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