Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2010

THE LIMITS OF LIMITED GOVERNMENT.... Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) is a tough man to figure out. The far-right Republican seems to be a walking contradiction -- he's a "family-values" conservative who got caught with prostitutes. He's a former Rhodes scholar who seems easily and frighteningly confused by almost every area of public policy. He's a Louisiana senator seeking re-election who seems inclined to ignore the devastating oil spill unfolding in the waters near his state.

And he's a champion of limited government who selectively ignores his guiding principle when it suits his purposes.

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.

If there's any kind of wisdom here, it eludes me. BP's oil rig is responsible for a potentially devastating oil spill, and the company was wrong when it insisted early on that this was a small, manageable problem. For a politician seeking re-election, the smart move would be to say the right thing: BP, this is your mess, and we're going to hold you responsible.

But Vitter -- the one who considers government inherently ineffective and incompetent -- wants BP to do less and government officials to do more.

And while Vitter's example is perhaps the most egregious, he's not alone. Conservative red-state governors are demanding intervention, resources, and money from the federal government in response to the oil spill disaster.

If all of this strikes you as low-hanging fruit -- tough talk about small government is easy until conservatives need big government -- I agree with you. It's the kind of routine hypocrisy and ideological inconsistency that occurs on a nearly daily basis.

It's what made Matt Yglesias' observation especially compelling: "It's an interesting sociological fact about members of the conservative movement in America that they like to talk about 'small government' and/or 'freedom' or 'liberty' but there's no reason to believe that in an operational sense the conservative movement is aiming at any of these things."

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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No need to mess your diaper, David. The government will step in a clean this up. Uh, the taxypers, however, they say they want to charge BP $1 billion a week.

I tried to talk them down, but they said their sick of bailing out companies who are 'too big to fail.'

Posted by: doubtful on May 4, 2010 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

(Vitter) 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.

Steve, it's a simple math problem: (I'll make it multiple choice, for the trolls)

Q: Who donated more money to Vitter's campaign?

A: federal and state officials

B: BP.

Posted by: DAY on May 4, 2010 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

We can't stop repeating this enough:

They want "small government" for YOU, and full services for THEMSELVES - without having to pay taxes, of course.

Posted by: Zandru on May 4, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Zifnab over at Balloon Juice put it perfectly (paraphrasing):

"The only time [conservatives] dont look to the free market for a solution is when they encounter an actual problem."

Sums it up nicely, don't it?

Posted by: Mark D on May 4, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Vitter's part of an entire ideology built around the notion of free lunch.

Posted by: Doug Bostrom on May 4, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe David Vitter can use depends (on the government too much) to clean up his coastline. Why this guy hasn't been howled right out of office is exactly why I couldn't give a rat's ass about Lousiana.

Posted by: Trollop on May 4, 2010 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Or Louisiana for that matter!

Posted by: Spell Trollop on May 4, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

DAY nails it. For conservatives, they want SMALL gov't for helping common folk; BIG gov't for helping themselves and their corporate puppet-masters. Makes perfect sense...

Posted by: lrtc on May 4, 2010 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

It is unthinkable to imagine the Coast Guard standing idly by while the BPers fend off the oil themselves.

No. The CG has been there from the get-go.

Would Conservatives wish our CG to shrink and become less effective?

Less government clearly means paying less taxes.

Smaller government means not-regulating industry, banking, etc.

BP has been lucky. The weather has kept the oil at sea for the most part. Their use of dispersants is working, but at what cost to plankton?

The visible residue of oil may have changed, but the bio-toxins are still in the food-chain.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on May 4, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Reverse socialism, but they know they'll never get called on it.

Posted by: rrright on May 4, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

There is no inconsistency here at all. Indeed, it is very consistent, and aptly demonstrates the core of modern conservative political thought:

Conservative: Government should be small and limited.

Me: What are the limits? What is it you think the remaining government should do?

Conservative: Government should do only two things -- (1) National Defense and (2) whatever helps me, but not you.

Posted by: zeitgeist on May 4, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Has any money actually changed hands between BP and the government or the people affected by the gusher? I want to see the cash flow as long as the oil flows. How much lobby money is in circualtion at this time? Names and faces of the recipients, please.

Posted by: st john on May 4, 2010 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

[...] say the right thing: BP, this is your mess, and we're going to hold you responsible.

But "holding you responsible" doesn't equate "we'll leave you to clean it up all by yourself".

For one thing, you can't trust them to do a good job -- their record of cheapskating (don't need no stinking half mil valve) and lying (it's just a teeny-tine leak; a leaklet, really) proves it. For another thing, for the sake of the are, this is not the time for apportioning blame but the time of "all hands to the plow".

Once the problem is contained, however... *That's* when it'll be time to spread BP really thin. Make them pay for everything, including the time and equipment that the Coast Guard is using. For every bit of clean up and rebuilding that will need to be done later. At corporate rates, by preference.

Posted by: exlibra on May 4, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

So Vitter, and the conservative movement in general, don't want "big government" to tell how to run their lives, want government services without paying the taxes needed for said government, and then cry when the government doesn't move fast enough for them when the shit hits the fan.

In other words, the modern conservative movment has the mindset and maturiy of a five-year-old spoiled brat.

Posted by: 2Manchu on May 4, 2010 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Zmanchu hit it.

Can you imagine the uproar if the US sent out resources to attend to the spill and the problem HAD been small enough that BP needed no help?

Praise for the efficacy of the private sector would have been thick enough to frost cake with and scoffing at feeble federal intervention as prominent.

BP said they had it in hand and Obama gave them as much rope as they wanted. Now they want to gripe.

Feh. Losers.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 4, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

This may seem strange until you realize that republicans and big business don't mind how much of your money they have to spend to get what they want. Just keep that fact in mind.

The tell is simple: hell will freeze over before any of these guys recommend taxing industry to support a government cleanup agency.

The best way to address this is to remove all liability limits on pollution, and to actually introduce binding arbitration in order to receive licenses to release (accidentally or intentionally) toxic pollutants or produce defective products.

Why tax the federal courts?

Also: limit insurance coverage. If you create a huge mess, expect to turn over ownership to your victims.

Posted by: tomj on May 4, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I don't want big government.

I just want big government pay outs for cleaning up

the oil spill.

I also want to make huge profits securing other oil resources, not just Iraq, Iranistan, etc.

I also want unlimited access to mineral profits anywhere on the planet.


Good at War.

Good at Spills.

Waging war against the planet, all of it.

Go Conservationists!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on May 4, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Teabagger:

David Vitter (R-LA) and other Insider, Beltway Republicans are proposing to help British Petroleum escape their obligations to the Real Americans of the gulf coast. Yes, Republicans are trying to provide a ginormous CORPORATE BAILOUT - and not even of American Petroleum. They're bailing out big corporations with your tax dollars, sending your tax dollars overseas, leaving you with a bill in taxes and pollution your grandkids will still be paying for. These Republicans are siding with Europe over your wallet and your children! You're Taxed Enough Already, and Sick of Bailouts. Tell the Republicans "No" this November. It ain't a BP-party, and our Founding Fathers weren't dumping oil in the harbor -- its a TEA Party and you should keep it that way. Vote out all incumbent Republicans to stop the bailouts, protect your tax dollars, and win once more over the British (Petroleum)!

Yours in malleable fanaticism,


Posted by: zeitgeist on May 4, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

I would suggest Vitter is actually trying to absolve BP from any serious responsibility by casting responsibility for the entire thing on the Federal government.

In a few days he'll be saying the government forced BP to drill in an unsafe manner in the first place with their overbearing regulations and so it's really the fault of the socialist conspiracy trying to run our lives.

Posted by: cld on May 4, 2010 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

zeitgeist nails it!

Posted by: cld on May 4, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK


I think you'll only get the 'baggers attention if you convince them the 'B' in BP stands for 'black guy.'

Posted by: doubtful on May 4, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK
Steve: "It's what made Matt Yglesias' observation especially compelling ..."

Yglesias has a demonstrable talent for stating the obvious.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 4, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think you'll only get the 'baggers attention if you convince them the 'B' in BP stands for 'black guy.' Posted by: doubtful

Do you think it'll be enough if we just accuse them of wanting to turn the entire gulf black? i mean, most of the conservatives down there have surely long been opposed to black on their beaches, right?

Posted by: zeitgeist on May 4, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I agree with Vitter that the federal and state governments should protect and clean up the coast though I am furious that I am once again required to help pay for the predictable consequences of failed conservative policies. I have never been in favor of deregulation. I don't like off-shore drilling, I hate the "drill, baby, drill" mantra, and I would much, much rather be conserving oil and investing in renewable energy.

But pinning all the blame on BP, expecting BP to pick up the tab, is just a way for Americans to avoid taking responsibility for the failed conservative policies they have embraced for the past 30 years and still embrace. What will it take for these idiots to learn? You can't expect a corporation to act in the best interests of citizens; only a strong, competent government can protect citizens from the excesses of the free market. You can't expect the free market to produce the kind of energy policies that we must have in place for America's future; only government can do that. So, let us just face the fact that Americans have not wanted to accept environmentally sound practices. They have fought to sustain their addiction to cheap oil. And now, when faced with one nightmarish consequence of that disgusting addiction, they want someone else--BP--to pick up the tab. Talk about irresponsible!

Not that I think Vitter is arguing for government involvement because he sees things as I do. In conservo-speak, "freedom" is just a socially acceptable word for selfishness and greed. Two principles govern all their principles: "I win" and "you lose." When big government helps them win, they embrace it. So Vitter is no doubt defending BP shareholders and Louisiana conservative interests when he argues that the federal government should clean up the mess! When conservatives fear that government might cause them to lose something, then they favor small, weak government. God forbid the federal government should insist on better oil rig safety or propose energy policies that try to reduce our dependence on oil!

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 4, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats should seize on this and lambast the GOP for wanting to bailout BP. And here it actually applies!

Posted by: Baldrick on May 4, 2010 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

PTate, I get your point, and its a good one, but when you get to this:

And now, when faced with one nightmarish consequence of that disgusting addiction, they want someone else--BP--to pick up the tab. Talk about irresponsible!

it ignores the obvious point that BP makes billions of dollars on carbon-based fuels, and millions of dollars in extra profit when it shorts safety systems. since BP has made all of the money, they are the logical ones to pick up the tab.

(at pg 2 of BP's 2009 annual report, you'll see the line "Profit for the year attributable to BP shareholders" and the amount of $16,578,000,000.)

Posted by: zeitgeist on May 4, 2010 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Read the comments posted beneath the Washington Post column. Right-wingers are indignantly defending themselves, claiming that they never said that they were against ALL government, and that rescuing the nation from "Who, us?" corporations is a legitimate use of government. Nothing at all to do with big-government regulation, socialized health care, banning fishing, etc.

So, conservative principles stand firm: Government can't do anything right. Except bail out the red states when it's convenient for them.

Posted by: Johnny on May 4, 2010 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

MS, AL, LA, TX, FL ...
Let them eat oil.

Posted by: cwolf on May 4, 2010 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

The other thing that is puzzling about Vitter is his lack of charm. He does not have the good 'ol boy charm of Clinton or George W. He seems to have no personality at all.

Posted by: bob h on May 5, 2010 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

tomj has the nodus of the issue in hand, but I'd add that when industry inevitably drops the ball, and needs the state to come and protect them (and their profits) from their themselves, we the people end up paying more because no governmental institutions are in place, and every response needs to be ad hoc.

Posted by: jhm on May 5, 2010 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK



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