Conservatives, nominally supporters of smaller government and free markets, are yet again torpedoing these principles in the name of short term political expediency. In order to score a few fleeting points against Obama, they are calling him out over the BP oil spill, saying that this is his Katrina, a massive failure both in regulation and response.
That's stupid. One can certainly raise some questions about the government -- why have they been collecting an oil spill cleanup tax but not any oil spill cleanup capability or equipment, why are we driving oil companies out of easy oil in shallow waters to crazy-hard oil in deep waters. But this is not Obama's fault nor the government's fault. This is BP's fault. They screwed up and started the spill, and it was they that had no contingency plan for such a disaster. And its going to cost them a staggering amount of money, as it should.
After all, what are the feds going to do? They certainly can't be expected to maintain the expertise to deal with this kind of thing, particularly in cutting-edge deep water. Which is why Obama has had to resort mostly to joggling BP's elbow demanding that hey hurry.
We have the incredible sight of Conservatives, rightly, saying that more regulation could not have prevented the financial crisis because regulators are any better than industry participants in spotting problems when entering uncharted territory. But here we have exactly the same situation and Conservatives are hammering on Obama for not being authoritarian enough or regulating enough.
Postscript: One of the few things the Obama administration has done is demand BP stop using a certain oil dispersant chemical because it is toxic. Duh. So is all the oil. Which is probably why BP ignored him. Government is terrible with this type of decision. We have something really bad happening that we can't control. But we can make it less bad by doing X, but X has some downsides as well. In the heat of battle, when discretion is required, government will choose the sin of omission (letting more oil reach the shore) over the sin of commission (using a toxic dispersant), even if this decision is irrational. In their incentive system, the sin of commission is impossible to sluff off on someone else. The sin of omission can always be blamed on BP, or Bush, or whoever. This is one reason why government bureaucratic rules are often so detailed and prescriptive -- given these incentives, certain decisions will never be made in the heat of battle by bureaucrats unless their actions are guided by detailed rules, which then give them cover.
Postscript #2: I think the media has tended to underestimate the difficulty here. 5000 feet of water is really deep and complicated to work in, orders of magnitude harder than shallow water, which in turn is orders of magnitude harder than on land. In a way, its actually kind of amazing that BP has sealed this thing, given that the Soviets, in much less difficult leaks, reportedly had to resort to nukes to seal the well.