The ideological hitch to the GOP’s spill criticism

THE IDEOLOGICAL HITCH TO THE GOP’S SPILL CRITICISM…. President Obama chatted with Politico‘s Roger Simon yesterday, and the original headline on the piece was pretty misleading: “Obama to Politico: Congress shares the blame for BP.” The revised headline was a little more specific, but still missed the point: “Obama to Politico: GOP shares the blame for spill.”

I haven’t seen the entire transcript, but based on what the magazine published, that doesn’t appear to be the point the president made in the interview.

In an interview with POLITICO, the president said: “I think it’s fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big-government overregulation and wasteful spending.”

The president also implied that anti-big government types such as Tea Party activists were being hypocritical on the issue.

“Some of the same folks who have been hollering and saying ‘do something’ are the same folks who, just two or three months ago, were suggesting that government needs to stop doing so much,” Obama said. “Some of the same people who are saying the president needs to show leadership and solve this problem are some of the same folks who, just a few months ago, were saying this guy is trying to engineer a takeover of our society through the federal government that is going to restrict our freedoms.”

This doesn’t sound like a president trying to extend blame, so much as it’s Obama taking note of the fatal flaw in Republicans’ attacks.

And can anyone seriously disagree with his analysis? Imagine if, before the April 20 explosion, the White House had announced its desire to expand government regulation of the oil industry, impose new safety and emergency mandates, and spend taxpayer money on equipment and technology. Is there any doubt what we’d hear from Republicans, their lobbyist allies, and the media that’s been trained to be on the lookout for “big government”?

It often goes unsaid — which is why I’m glad Obama said it — but this simple truth is the problem that underscores the right’s criticism of the administration’s response. Conservatives are dissatisfied with the president’s actions to date, but what they tend to downplay is that they’d be even more dissatisfied with the kind of steps that would have prevented the disaster in the first place.

It’s why GOP arguments have taken on a child-like quality: the disaster happened, Obama’s president, therefore blame the disaster on Obama.

The Politico headline notwithstanding, this isn’t about the president assigning blame; it’s about drawing attention to the fact that government regulation and spending can prevent catastrophes like these — and the critics on the right can’t have it both ways.