Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who cares, really?

I did not watch President Obama's speech last night about the BP oil spill, but I have heard enough commentary today to have a pretty good idea what happened and how. In essence, following Rahm Emanuel's dictum to "never let a good crisis go to waste," the President decided to basically ignore the problem, and use it as an opportunity to get his "cap and trade" bill going. It is interesting that his speech drew considerable criticism even from the left. Even that epitome of state-run media, The New York Times, editorialized that the President failed to convince the American people that he would take the right steps to ensure that the oil spill would be cleaned up as soon as possible.

This brings me to Rush Limbaugh. Near the beginning of his show today, he launched into a twenty-minute philippic about the President's failure of leadership in this situation; and as usual, acted as a shill for the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, whose competence to address a crisis of this nature is equally doubtful. Mr. Limbaugh's criticism is that the feds are not listening to the states, and are not providing the help they need to deal with the environmental damage.

The fundamental error that made this oil spill possible was the federal government's cap on BP's liability, and its failure to provide reasonable legislation to ensure environmental protection in the deep-sea oil fields, as I discussed May 28.

When I was a child, my mother taught me that if I make a mess, it's my responsibility to clean it up. BP should be expected to clean up the mess, entirely at their own expense; but that does not preclude the federal government marshalling resources at its disposal to assist; or to get necessary equipment and supplies to the affected states in a timely manner.

On the other hand, now is probably as good a time as any to instruct the American people, that it is not the responsibility of the federal government to rob the taxpayers for charitable causes, such as providing make-work jobs for displaced workers in Louisiana.

With this in mind, the example of Grover Cleveland in 1887 in dealing with a massive crop failure in Texas should prove instructive, as this piece by the libertarian Mises Institute makes clear. Following are excerpts from President Cleveland's veto message against a Congressional appropriation to provide seeds for the Texas farmers (emphasis added):

To the House of Representatives:

I return without my approval House bill number 10203, entitled "An Act to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought-stricken counties of Texas, and making an appropriation therefor." ...

Though there has been some difference in statements concerning the extent of the people's needs in the localities thus affected, there seems to be no doubt that there has existed a condition calling for relief; and I am willing to believe that, notwithstanding the aid already furnished, a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region, to enable them to put in new crops, would serve to avert a continuance or return of an unfortunate blight.

And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood...

The appropriation of the current year for this purpose is $100,000, and it will probably be no less in the appropriation for the ensuing year. I understand that a large quantity of grain is furnished for such distribution, and it is supposed that this free apportionment among their neighbors is a privilege which may be waived by our senators and representatives.

If sufficient of them should request the Commissioner of Agriculture to send their shares of the grain thus allowed them, to the suffering farmers of Texas, they might be enabled to sow their crops; the constituents, for whom in theory this grain is intended, could well bear the temporary deprivation, and the donors would experience the satisfaction attending deeds of charity.

That's what I would have liked to have heard from Mr. Limbaugh. A call to the people to assist the Gulf states on their own through charitable organizations that already exist. A call for BP to act responsibly. A call for a President who can use the "bully pulpit" to urge Americans to do what is needed, while staying within the Constitutional bonds our Founding Fathers put into place.

But I suppose I'm whistling into the wind again...

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