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Politicians are in a real jam over the BP oil spill disaster. The media and environmental groups are criticizing the Obama administration for not taking a more active leadership role. Conservatives are in a quandary: here they have a great opportunity to bash Obama, but at the cost of one of their sacred cows, the limitation of “big government”. If they advocate government control of the spill response they are essentially saying government has the right to intervene in business and “local” issues. This would put a kink in the long-standing conservative dogma that the federal government should only provide for the common defense, negotiate treaties with foreign powers, and maintain the interstate transportation system. Although maybe they could squeeze this one in under the interstate provision.

Obama doesn’t want the job because it’s a loser. The BP spill is already past the point of no return, and is growing worse each day. By the time this is all over – and that will be decades at best – it will be one of the worst ecological disasters in history. British Petroleum is doomed as a corporate entity. Obama doesn’t want to go down with them.

The big political question isn’t how can we stop the crisis from getting worse, because we can’t. It’s about as bad as it can be and even if the oil stops gushing tomorrow it’s too late for the Gulf coast. The question then is “how did we get here?”. Was there really no contingency planning for this kind of accident? Was there really no coordination between the oil companies and state and federal authorities? Have we been sitting on this time-bomb all along with no thought to the consequences of a “runaway” gusher a mile down on the Gulf floor?

Apparently the answer is no, there was no contingency and, no, there was no corporate-government cooperation and, yes, we have been just waiting for lightning to strike.

When the oil stops flowing someone is going to take it in the neck and every bodily orifice over this, and everyone wants to get as much distance as they can from BP. But you can bet that the oil industry response will be along the lines of “we aren’t responsible because the government sold the leases, and didn’t require any accountability, so there’s no crime here”.

And damn if they won’t be right.