Has Obama met his Katrina? And real political change has to come from outside the establishment…

Is Barack Obama offering real change? To some extent, maybe. But his change, especially his inability to handle the Gulf oil spill crisis, is making his change look  too much like the same old same old Bush W methodology — he’s doing a heck of a job.

The measure of a leader is what he can do in a crisis. And in this Gulf oil disaster Obama is not particularly having his finest hour. In some ways it seems like this is his Katrina. I’d have to go back and look at the actual time line, but as I recall, we first heard that there had been an explosion on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf. There were casualties, eleven dead, but the first reports quoting experts assured us all that there was no sign of oil escaping. But maybe there should have been contingency plans in the advent that it was (and it was). Apparently there were not. That of course is primarily the fault of BP, but the federal government certainly should have had plans and realized the potential and immediately took charge and made sure something was done post haste. The response was rather slow (despite Obama administration claims) and the government let BP control the information and action, puting itself and all of us at the giant oil corporation’s mercy.

Of course Obama can’t immediately fix everything wrong in government left over from previous administrations. One big problem is that the agency or agencies that oversee oil and mining and such on land and sea are rife with corruption. We now find out that many of the inspections done on offshore oil rigs were phony — the industry did them itself and the paid-off bureaucrats signed off on them. It’s even been reported that BP took a shortcut in drilling the mile-deep Deep Horizon well by throwing sea water into it instead of mud as it was supposed to (profits before safety) . And this is what we get. But maybe if Obama was not so busy apologizing to our enemies or at least people who don’t like us and trying to rebuild a nation (Afghanistan) that resists rebuilding, he would have more time to take care of things at home.

During the Katrina fiasco, Bush just did not seem to care. It was not worth his time to help a bunch of poor people down in New Orleans who probably did not and would not vote for him and his party. In Obama’s case, I am sure he cares, but there seems to be something missing. The fact is that no one really knows what to do to stop that leak (they were still dithering this morning, more than a month after the thing began), and that is not the president’s fault.

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UPDATE: a so-called top kill procedure began at 1 p.m. central time today (5-26-10) in which BP is essentially throwing mud and concrete down the hole in an attempt to plug it up but its CEO was only giving the gambit a 60 percent or so chance to work. Meanwhile I just heard  a report that the oil gushing out (millions of gallons so far) is becoming darker and presumably more toxic. It is said they might not know for days if this is working, and if not, efforts to dig relief wells would not be done until August. There is also talk of using a convoy of tankers to suck up the oil — seems like that would be hard to keep up.

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But Obama needs to be more visible in marshaling the forces that can put their heads together and figure out what to do. He does not need to be anti-business or anti oil but he needs to be pro-American.

This Gulf oil disaster, with the fishery of the Gulf in peril (maybe already ruined), and the coastline and wetlands of Louisiana being devastated and the potential for far wider environmental and economic damage, needs to take priority over things such as Afghanistan where we are currently wasting blood and treasure.

And again, Obama’s change seems like more of the same. While he came in sweet-talking the Islamic world of the Middle East, he’s got the nation mired deeper than ever in the war over there.

He did not do away with torture and he continued the bank bailouts and while health care is listed as his greatest success so far, it really remains to be seen. And the housing crisis continues along with high unemployment.

Real political change may have to come from something other than the establishment.

While I hate to break down all politics to left and right, or liberal (progressive has become the modern euphemism) and conservative, I have to think that while in 2008 we essentially got change (supposedly) from the left in the presidential election, next time around it may come from the right or even more likely from something that is neither.

(And by the way, even though “liberal” has been attached to the Democrats and while liberals nowadays like to call themselves “progressives“, didn’t the “progressive” term start with Republican Teddy Roosevelt? Or at least in that era? Back then the Republicans wanted clean government and instituted civil service to replace the spoils system, while Democrats seemed to prefer machine politics that got votes by handing out jobs).

If the economy does not improve substantially, in the presidential election of 2012 or even the congressional elections next fall we might get real change (though not necessarily change for the better).

There are a lot of other issues other than the economy — defense, war policy, illegal immigration, gay rights (I prefer really to say homosexual rights, but the word gay has been ruined for decades now — it used to just mean happy), the environment (BP spill, a good example), and so on, but the economy or the perception of the economy usually takes center stage in elections.

I thought it was strange Al Gore not only lost due to an electoral college technicality but did not win by a landslide, seeing as how he would have presumably continued the relative prosperity under Bill Clinton — but I guess people did not know the bottom was going to fall out and so they thought they could afford to express their disgust with Clinton’s outrageous lack of judgment and morals (and I can understand their disgust).

But unless my memory fails me, the economy helped George W. Bush, one of our most obviously dull witted presidents, win two terms, even while it had ruined his dad’s (a far brighter bulb) chance for a second term.

I still think the vast majority of the electorate remains essentially middle of the road — it just tends to swing a little left and a little right at times.

But things are so bad (even though there are some signs of economic improvement here and there) and the corruption and ineffectiveness of government so great, that the electorate is liable to swing back to the right or something that is not the traditional right, but is not left.

The tea party movement and its faction of libertarians and the stray bigots and nut cases add another element that does not exactly fit into the familiar liberal/conservative paradigms.

While I doubt the new element can gain much strength in government by itself, I do believe it can have, or has had successes with individual candidates and I really believe it can have a major impact on the actions of the establishment, whose professional politicians are fighting for their survival. Since the tea party still seems to be closer to the Republicans, that party, the GOP, is particularly vulnerable to its influence.

The libertarian element really offers a challenge to the establishment who can only think in left and right terms because it is left and right or right and left at the same time.

In addition, hard-core tea baggers threaten to oppose the entire establishment to include Republicans and Democrats.

Both the Republicans and Democrats, who have had a stranglehold on politics since the Civil War, are facing insurrections within their own parties as well as a challenge from what amounts to a quasi third party, the tea party. In some respects the tea party will remain stronger if it remains tea party lower case instead of becoming an official party with membership and bylaws and a written platform and its name on the ballot, as in Tea Party. It’s hard to fight a challenger you can’t quite identify.

While I think there are regressive and racial overtones and outright idiots within the ranks of the challengers, overall I still feel this new movement of change (different from the Obama change) is a healthy development for our democracy.

Presumably candidates on the national level will still have to appeal to the broader electorate, so that is a safety mechanism.

On the other hand, if the establishment keeps failing and desperation is too acute, extremists could get the upper hand.

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