Oil, Tar and Feathers

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Washington has entered that wacky hyperbolic season again: OMG! The world is falling! The magic is gone! His credibility is shot! And, it turns out, President Obama’s not even competent!

Yes, the oil spill sucks. And yes, it’s a giant headache not only for Obama (gee, ya think that offshore drilling expansion was tragically timed?) but also for Dems. No one wants to look like they’re dropping the ball, that they’re doing a heckavajob (Brownie), when, in fact, it’s only getting worse. Is this Obama’s Waterloo? Does this make him a one-term President? No one knows the answers to these questions and won’t for years and breathless speculation over it only distracts from the underlying problem.

There’s a buck to stop somewhere in the Interior Department – well over Elizabeth Birnbaum’s head. The Administration had 18 months to figure out that the Minerals Management Service was handing out deep sea oil drilling licenses like candy to kids – only candy comes with more warnings these days (thank you Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver). Someone somewhere is tracking Ken Salazar’s career at Interior with an egg timer. Environmental groups have been screaming for his scalp since he suggested that BP’s liability might be capped at $10 billion (Credit Suisse today estimated BP’s now on the hook for at least $37 billion). Salazar’s always been a moderate – a bit of a tradition at Interior – but given the climate, moderate’s becoming a dirty word. Even MoveOn.org is turning against the President these days. And is there any doubt that some kind of oil czar — who is not Salazar — is going to have to be appointed to oversee the clean up?

But what I don’t get is why Obama is taking blame for the botched stemming of the spill and for a clean up that under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez, makes it clearly the responsibility – nay, jurisdiction – of the company. By hugging the gooey tar close and making it his own, Obama has invited the angry mob to come forth with feathers. Only now, belatedly, is the Administration, in the form of Attorney General Eric Holder, pointing fingers at BP. That should’ve been their mantra the entire time. Clearly, someone took a poll (you have to love the way DC works as polling results usually come in Wednesday nights and therefore big Thursday announcements are often the result of some panicked course correction) and last Thursday Obama went on tv and accepted the blame for, well, everything. Only for the mess of the last 43 days, he isn’t really to blame: BP is. The hyperbolic guys with the feathers, and the President himself, would do well to remember that.