April 6, 2023


St. Paul, Minn. (May 27, 2010) – The oil spill puts illogic of dismantling “big government” in perspective.

The disaster along the Gulf Coast is one of the greatest environmental calamities ever witnessed. It is time for those responsible for stopping the uncontained flow of oil into our fragile eco-system – whether it is BP, the Coast Guard or whomever – to step up and take immediate action.

My heart goes out to the people of Louisiana and the entire region who, after making great progress recovering from Hurricane Katrina, are now faced with trying to rebuild shattered lives once again.

Having said that, I found the pleas of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal a bit ironic as he demanded immediate and extensive federal action to address this oil spill. Not because I don’t believe that Washington needs to do more. In fact, every state and every country should offer to send help to the Gulf Coast.

But I couldn’t help recalling an earlier speech that Jindal gave, in response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2009. In what has become widely mocked as the governor’s failed inaugural appearance on the national stage, Jindal suggested that Democrats in Congress have misplaced “their hope in the federal government.”

Stating that it was simply a “fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government,” he suggested that Republicans were the ones who placed their faith in “the American people.” He strongly opposed increased dependence on government, and suggested that the way to “strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington, to empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and to create jobs… You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility.”

Now, in the wake of this disaster, Jindal is calling for help from the National Guard, federal assistance for state fisherman, more booms, oil skimmers, vacuums and barges – all presumably supplied by the federal government.

Again, to be clear, I believe that all of those things should be provided post haste. But government isn’t simply a switch that can be turned on and off whenever one wishes to add light to a darkening room. Nor should it be available when I need it but not when others seek assistance.

The myth perpetrated by governors (including one right here in Minnesota) and Tea Party members alike is that salvation will be found in dismantling “big government” and empowering average folks to control their own destinies. The problem with that thinking is easier to see now, when the government’s failure to appropriately regulate offshore drilling or respond to an emergency is clearly visible.

In these moments, where working families lose everything and our planet is put at unnecessary risk, we see people taking advantage of downsized government.

Gov. Jindal stated: “We’ve been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late for the oil hitting our coast.”

Amen. I hope he thinks about that the next time he stands in the national spotlight and declares that those of us who don’t see government as the enemy are part of the problem.

I have never believed that government is the solution to all of our problems, but it has to be there when we need it. When we pick up the phone to dial 911, we shouldn’t have to think about whether the government has the ability to respond. It must always be there to stand with us in our time of need. And regardless of rhetoric or political strife, we can all agree that we need to do better for Louisiana in theirs.

Chris Coleman, a DFL party member, is a Mayor of the City of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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