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May 04, 2010

Dana Milbank Swings and Misses the Point

Some things have to be read to be believed:

There is something exquisite about the moment when a conservative decides he needs more government in his life.

About 10:30 Monday morning, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), an ardent foe of big government, posted a blog item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I strongly believe BP is spread too thin," he wrote.

The poor dears. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if "federal and state officials" would do the dirty work of "protecting and cleaning up the coast" instead of BP.

About an hour later came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- all three governed by men who once considered themselves limited-government conservatives -- want the federal government to mobilize (at taxpayer expense, of course) more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup.

That followed an earlier request by the small-government governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal (R), who issued a statement saying he had called the Obama administration "to outline the state's needs" and to ask "for additional resources." Said Jindal: "These resources are critical."

Conservatives have never said that all government is bad. They believe government exists to fill a limited set of needs neither the states nor ordinary citizens have the ability to provide on their own: national security, maintaining a common currency, mitigating natural and man made disasters, regulating interstate commerce.

I can't imagine a world where what has been called potentially the largest oil spill ever to affect the US isn't a disaster of monumental proportions. It will affect not only innumerable human lives but our rapidly vanishing wildlife as well. It will affect commerce. It strikes at the very lifeblood of Gulf states: their ability to earn a living. No individual state has the resources to respond to such a disaster on its own. That is precisely why we have a federal government.

It's notable here, too, that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the timeliest, most effective and most efficient response came from the Pentagon. Inconveniently for Mr. Milbank, the Pentagon's budget is the one form of big government progressives loathe with every fiber in their being. Progressives prefer a massive central government that doles out taxpayer funded butter (which ordinary citizens can procure for ourselves without government help) with both hands but lacks the resources to provide for the common defense.

The irony here is not that conservatives want the federal government to step in and use resources conservatives have always maintained were utterly necessary and proper.

The irony is that a big government progressive like Milbank would cynically use a disaster of epic proportions to attack public servants for doing exactly what they were hired by the people to do: protect the interests of their constituents. The irony is that if people like Milbank had their way, the Pentagon and National Guard would be holding bake sales and our tax dollars would be handed out to people who can't even take care of themselves, much less protect others.

A social compact that protects some citizens at the expense of others but lacks the ability to ensure the survival and prosperity of this nation is not worth protecting. How sad that Mr. Milbank looks at a tragedy and sees not human suffering and devastation but a chance to play "gotcha".

Nice straw man, Dana. Keep practicing and one day you may be as good as the President.

Update: William Jacobson makes a related point:

... conservatives understand that maritime affairs traditionally are within the purview of federal jurisdiction, see Article I, Section 10 and Article III, Section 2 of the document known as the United States Constitution.

Ooooooh, snap!

Posted by Cassandra at May 4, 2010 08:11 AM

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Comments

Big government progressives are hand servants of Darkness.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 4, 2010 10:59 AM

You're right, this is a strawman argument. It's also a reductio ad absurdum.

Opponents of federal government overreach have not said there is no role for big gummint, only that it didn't belong in business. Government cars will run like, oh, government mails or government medicine...ask the Indians and the veterans about the latter...oops, ask the Native Americans.

You nailed it here:

A social compact that protects some citizens at the expense of others but lacks the ability to ensure the survival and prosperity of this nation is not worth protecting. How sad that Mr. Milbank looks at a tragedy and sees not human suffering and devastation but a chance to play "gotcha".

Thanks for the reminder that ever since the days of the Barbary pirates few have had qualms with government intervention at sea. Especially a body of water that stretches from Mexico t Florida.

Posted by: Dymphna at May 4, 2010 12:29 PM

That's exactly the response I want to see: a Constitutional citation demonstrating a precise grant of authority to the Federal government. If there is one, the government may lay on! If not... it should lay off.

Posted by: Grim at May 4, 2010 12:35 PM

I agree! Full marks to Jacobson for knowing the Constitution better than I do :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 4, 2010 12:49 PM

Apparently NOAA had plans and was supposed to have materials stockpiled in certain areas around the Gulf for just such events. But for whatever reasons, it was left to the Coast Guard to try to improvise (which they did very well) ways to burn and contain the slick. I suppose that until the "charismatic megafauna" became involved, the top feds were not interested.

Charismatic megafauna - $4 word for cute animals that everyone uses to raise money or otherwise promote a cause. I.e. otters, polar bears, Bambi . . .

Posted by: LittleRed1 at May 4, 2010 01:47 PM

Charismatic megafauna - $4 word for cute animals that everyone uses to raise money or otherwise promote a cause. I.e. otters, polar bears, Bambi . . .

You forgot feral dachshunds.

Posted by: What am I? Chopped Liver? at May 4, 2010 02:04 PM

"Charismatic megafauna" -- I've made similar observations in the past, but never had a good name for it. Thanks, LittleRed!

There's another irony regarding the Katrina comparison. Katrina, in New Orleans, was a relatively minor hurricane whose effects were hugely compounded by before-the-fact government mistakes (poor levee design, no provision for emergency power to pumping facilities, etc.) To the extent that Katrina wasn't even worse, it was due considerably to the actions of laymen, ranging from boarding up windows and removing potential outdoor projectiles, to sandbagging levees and evacuating themselves and their friends and family. (Remember the guy who absconded a school bus and drove a bunch of his neighbors to Houston?)

In contrast, with this oil spill thing, there is very little the layman can do. Most of us don't have the gear needed for oil slick removal laying around in our basements. Trying to clean up the beaches is pointless until the spill has dissipated, by which the damage will have already been done. It might be possible to rescue and clean up some wildlife, but only a small percentage.

What really gets me is the fact that the oil platform that exploded apparently had no provision for closing the well foot valve in an emergency. This despite the fact that offshore oil platforms are among the most heavily regulated and inspected industrial operations. Fat lot of good that did. My guess is the government inspectors were far too busy with important stuff like writing up stair railings that weren't the exact correct color.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at May 4, 2010 02:12 PM

The only statistic that matters is: 3 out of 4 registered votes are Caucasian. Hussein Obama has an approval rating of about 33-34% among Caucasian registered voters. Barry is doomed.....

Obama bin Lyin, Nancy Botox and Whorehouse Harry have six more months of total power.

Then in a mere 2 1/2 yrs, His Highness, The Effiminate One, will be drummed out of office so fast, it'll make your head spin.

Posted by: gsr at May 4, 2010 04:28 PM

From the reports, the triple-redundant cutoff clamp either failed to work or there was an additional blowout to the side of the wellhead.

Milbank probably believes each state maintains several hundred million dollars worth of equipment and personnel that do nothing but stand idle until an emergency pops up. FEMA has contingency plans for several different disasters, but each plan has to be triggered in Washington, because only POTUS can release some of the assets.

When Katrina hit, I had the information and the contacts to ship 1,000 Kw Army generators to NOLA, but I had to wait until FEMA confirmed the White House had authorized their release and shipment.

That took less than three hours, and the next day, generators started arriving at Ft. Polk by C-130 from as far away as Utah and Oregon. It took FEMA three *days* to move them down the road to N'Awluns...

Posted by: BillT at May 4, 2010 04:43 PM

FEMA needs a union, obviously.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 4, 2010 05:21 PM

It's just typical of the unhinged barking moonbat lefties to think that we on the Right want no government. No! We just want, as pointed out, a government that stays within the mandates of the Constitution. Helping in the cleanup of this environmental (and soon to be, perhaps, economic) disaster, vs, say, regulating salt intake, Happy Meals, and charging for carry on luggage.

As a sidebar, for some reason, they made it harder on Thomas to look at what is being submitted in Congress.

Posted by: William Teach at May 4, 2010 07:53 PM

[gasp!] You dare to think that you can read The Words before they are Revealed?


For a long time, I've called myself a Rational Anarchist -- make what laws you need, if following them is the right thing to do, I'll obey; if not....

Posted by: htom at May 4, 2010 08:24 PM

"regulating interstate commerce."

Please don't say this. The word "regulate" does NOT nowadays have the same meaning that it had when the Constitution was written. The object in mind was merely to "regularize" - that is, to make consistent and uniform -- the laws of each State with regard to each other State; in order to prohibit tariffs placed by one State on the goods of another State .... THAT'S ALL!! It was not meant to imply that the Federal Government would have power to pass "regulation" bringing under authority of the Federal Government anything and everything that touches upon commerce between the States.
The INTENTIONAL misreading of this one word in Wickard v. Filburn was the single most damaging and distorting thing to twist America from the Nation that the Founders had intended.
So, this particular Power of Congress should never be referred to using the words of the Constitution without an explanatory caveat. Without a caveat which distinguishes the current meaning of "regulate" from the proper Constitutional meaning of "regulate", the simple quoting or listing of this clause is effectively A LIE.

Posted by: Uriel at May 4, 2010 11:17 PM

It is only a lie for Democrats. For most others, it is an untruth.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 5, 2010 02:29 AM

I run into this kind of rigidity of thought all the time. Some liberals have difficulty with the idea that government should have a limited role. They assume that everyone must choose between supporting an all-encompassing role or a non-existent one. Anything else strikes them as hypocritical. Part of the problem may be the drumbeat they've been hearing all their lives to the effect that there aren't any standards by which you can consider one role to be more appropriate than another, because that would be "discrimination" or "judgmentalism."

During our last local election I got stuck in a room for some hours with the Democratic alternate judge, who took advantage of the low turnout to harangue my clerk and me. A typical conversational opener: "So you believe in a limited government? I guess you think it's a good idea for people to lose their life savings in an insured bank and then stave to death, huh?" Gosh, he was a charmer. We spent some time trying to draw a distinction between government intervention that helps or makes things worse, not to mention between public and private institutional cures for various social ills afflicting individuals. He never showed any sign of understanding us -- just kept knocking down those straw men. Either a perfect safety net or heartless individualism. Government in every aspect of life or in none at all. Mommy either loves me or hates me.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 5, 2010 11:03 AM

Utopia must be permanent and perfect. Anything else is the devil's work and must be obliterated entirely.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 5, 2010 01:31 PM

> I can't imagine a world where what has been called potentially the largest oil spill ever to affect the US isn't a disaster of monumental proportions. It will affect not only innumerable human lives but our rapidly vanishing wildlife as well. It will affect commerce. It strikes at the very lifeblood of Gulf states: their ability to earn a living. No individual state has the resources to respond to such a disaster on its own. That is precisely why we have a federal government.


Mark my words -- I predict that this will be a tempest in a teapot. The spill will certainly have affects in the short term. Ten years from now, though, you'll go, "Oil spill? What spill? Oh, that one. Yeah, I'd forgotten all about that."

It is the media's job to turn anything like this into a major disaster of catastrophic proportions, so as to get as many people as possible paying endless attention to their shows, and hence their advertisers.

Remember the comet Kohoutek? The media interviews two scientists -- one says "Eh. It'll be visible to the naked eye, I wouldn't expect too much". The other says, "I believe this will be the most spectacular astronomic spectacle of this generation." -- which one gets airtime? Right. When it turns out to be a complete dud, who gets blamed? The reporters and editors for pushing the spectacular? No.

Similarly, whenever any scientist claims this isn't going to be a huge hairy deal, I guarantee you the media ignores him. But when one screams that "The Sky is falling! The Sky is falling!" I will guarantee you (esp. given the environmental nature of the story) that person gets all the airtime they need to get their message across.

Again -- not saying this isn't significant at all -- I'm saying it's going to be far less significant than is being sold at this time, and that you WILL have completely and utterly forgotten about it until reminded of it, and explicitly, within 10 years.

Posted by: O Bloody Hell at May 8, 2010 04:00 AM

The spill will certainly have affects in the short term. Ten years from now, though, you'll go, "Oil spill? What spill? Oh, that one. Yeah, I'd forgotten all about that."

The eco-freaks will still be screaming about it in ten years -- according to Greenpeas, the area around Prince William Sound is still a wasteland because of the Exxon Valdez spill. Truth is that *bacteria* cleaned up the spill within a year. Sib Three was a Fish & Wildlife agent in Anchorage for twenty years -- he said the only sign of the disaster in 1990 was the mountain of empty plastic detergent bottles the "environmental saviors" left...

Posted by: BillT at May 8, 2010 06:25 AM

You could be right, OBH. I was thinking more of the short term effects on the income of fishermen and the tourist industry, but I tend to agree with you about the long term picture.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 8, 2010 08:03 AM

Environmentalists can save the planet by first eliminating themselves in a mass suicide. That will clean up the planet automatically there.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 8, 2010 08:29 AM

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