As published for Contentious on commentarymagazine.com on May 28th, 2010:
There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.
The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”
It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.