Take charge of Gulf oil spill? Just do it, Mr. President.

Sure, Obama's opponents want him to 'own' the Gulf oil spill problem. But he runs greater risks by not taking charge.

By , Guest blogger

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    President Obama is greeted by National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen as he arrives in Kenner, La., June 4. The president runs risks by taking charge of the Gulf oil spill problem, but he faces a greater political risk by not stepping up.
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I just came across this post from Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard whom I’ve never known to mince words.

I like Bob Reich and consider him a friend, but he is nuts. [She’s referring to my suggestion that the President put BP into temporary receivership.] There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to “take charge” of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months.

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.

When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.

Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

My response:

I like Theda Skocpol and consider her a friend, but she’s got this one backwards. It’s not “political lunacy” for the president to take charge of this mess. It’s political lunacy for him not to.

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Would Theda propose that if a military contractor accidentally fired off a missile, or the owner of a nuclear reactor accidentally allowed it to melt down, or a food processor accidentally sent off deadly bacteria into America’s food chain, that the President should not take control because he couldn’t “fix” these disasters right away? Or that he shouldn’t get involved because the political right might subsequently use his efforts to reinforce its message that the government doesn’t work?

What’s happening in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in American history. It defies common sense for the President to delegate most of its solution to the same corporation whose negligence in all likelihood created it.

The public deeply distrusts BP, with good reason. Its record to date has been cutting corners to make profits. Yes, BP’s expertise may be necessary now. But how can we believe BP is using all the resources at its disposal to stop the leak? (A petroleum engineer told me earlier this week that BP has some two dozen tankers in the Gulf that could be siphoning off the oil, and has shut down work on the second relief well in order to cannibalize parts from it for the primary kill effort.)

How can we trust that decisions BP continues to make – such as the use of toxic dispersants – properly weigh risks to the safety and health of Americans?

And as BP continues to pay out dividends to its shareholders, how can we trust it will have enough capital to pay all the costs of cleanup, not to mention the costs to businesses and individauls of the devastation it’s wrought?

For the President to stand apart from all this – to set up a commission to study how it happened and instruct the Justice Department to inquire into the possibility that civil and criminal fines may be appropriate – is both poliltically unwise and against the public’s interest. I fear Americans will come to see it as a dereliction of duty.

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This post originally ran on www.robertreich.org.

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