President Obama has been under fire for the oil spill that occurred on his watch, some claims more legitimate than others. While people can debate endlessly about the proper tone Obama should be taking with BP and the American People, criticisms that span the broad range of human emotions: “he needs to get angry,” “he’s too paternal,” “I need a father figure,” there are some important points that get lost in the mix.

The first is that Obama, as he said, “cannot swim down there and plug the hole.” There is little reason to believe that further nationalizing the problem would expedite attempts to stop the leak. Firstly, BP has ever incentive to plug the hole; claims that they are kicking the can down the road are ridicules. The longer the oil spews the more BP’s stock and public’s opinion of the company plummets. Secondly, what would lead anyone to believe the government knows anything about drilling oil a mile under water.

If the government cannot stop the leak, the next best thing Obama can do is help clean it up. Here the Administration faltered. What if I told you that foreign ships, adept at cleaning up spilled oil, were offering to help in the US efforts off the Gulf, but the President wouldn’t let them. According to an early 20th century law, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act), “all goods shipped between U.S. ports must be transported in U.S.-built, U.S. owned and U.S. manned ships.”

This strangle law has worked against US interests before, most recently during Hurricane Katrina, which led Bush to temporarily waive the act. Obama’s refusal to waive the Jones Act has needlessly caused more oil to leak into the Gulf.

Stephen Horowitz offers his opinion about why Obama won’t budge from the Jones Act.

“Who is benefiting from this law's enforcement? One major beneficiary is organized labor. Ships that meet the requirements of the Jones Act are crewed by unionized labor and granting waivers to it would bring lower-wage labor into competition with those nice union jobs, potentially threatening them. One theory is that President Obama does not want to risk alienating the labor vote by waiving the Jones Act even for a short period of time. President Bush had no such concerns as labor wasn't going to vote for him anyway."  

Good to know that instead of actually helping the people of the Gulf Obama is using this tragedy to appease a frustrated interest group and advocate for an energy tax.

Wading through all the mud slung at Obama can be difficult. Adherence to the Jones Act is a criticism that sticks.