- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

As with terrorism, so with an unprecedented ecological disaster: The Obama administration’s most definitive response is to send in the lawyers. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s high-profile trip to the Gulf Coast yesterday was a counterproductive distraction from the urgent task of keeping oil off the shorelines of three states whose beaches and marshes are being fouled this very week.

Mr. Holder and President Obama both made a big show of wanting to “bring those responsible to justice.” That’s fine, but how about saving the marshes and beaches before worrying about affixing legal blame?

For one thing, BP should not have its own attention diverted. Capping the gusher and directing offshore cleanup efforts already are big enough tasks without needing to monitor a visit by a politicized attorney general bent on pursuing criminal charges. Certainly the oil company should pay, in every way, for this accident, but only after the immediate task of ecological salvation has been accomplished.

What’s worse is that the administration’s own focus has been so badly lacking. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 gives the president sweeping powers and responsibilities in the case of an oil blowout. Among many other provisions putting the president directly in charge, the law says the president “shall … direct or monitor all Federal, State and private actions to remove a discharge.” Yet this president has left BP in charge. His administration repeatedly has denied or delayed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s request for permitting authority to build new sand-island barriers. Mr. Obama has not made full use of military technology; he has not directed an armada of tankers into the area to skim up the oil. He has allowed to fester a situation in which available oil booms and available boats have remained unused while the marshes and beaches are poisoned.

Mr. Obama hasn’t even had the courtesy to return calls from Rep. Steve Scalise - a Republican from directly affected Jefferson Parish, La. - since Mr. Scalise began calling on May 23. The president apparently talks to Republicans only when he can lecture and scold them, not when he actually needs to listen and show leadership.

Mr. Obama does, however, find time to send down Mr. Holder for a photo-op, as if this disaster were all about law enforcement. Mr. Holder cannot be bothered to investigate three allegations of illicit White House job offers in return for forgoing Senate races, and he can’t be bothered to investigate New Black Panther Party voter intimidation or to respond adequately to questions about which lawyers are handling Guantanamo Bay detainee cases and why. But he has plenty of time to travel to the Gulf and talk tough about criminal inquiries. That’s the very definition of “slick.”