Broward News

Health Secretary Critiques Obama Before Oval Office Address

The blame game started about a second after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon opened a geyser of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and it's too late to stop the game now. So we may as well try to at least separate fact from fiction, starting with the POTUS.

With that in mind, I enlisted the perspective of Alan Levine, secretary of health and hospitals for Louisiana, whose coast is threatened today in a way that Florida's may be threatened tomorrow. (Levine happens to be the former CEO of Broward Health.)

What political decisions could have prevented this catastrophe? And what political blunders have made it worse?

The short answer from Levine: We'll have plenty of time for assigning blame; for now, what matters is being fast with the cleanup and being environmentally sound. In an email today to Juice, Levine wrote:

I have watched the talk shows and all the commentary by people who have no clue what they are talking about (on both sides), and from a perspective of being in the middle of it, it is difficult to listen to.

The fact is that America's wetlands are in peril. There is a level of discomfort that it seems no one has taken true ownership of this. That's what's causing people like [Louisiana-born Democratic commentator] James Carville to speak out. They are passionate about this.
Pressed to give a political analysis, Levine admits he's irritated by Barack Obama's claims about administration decisions being "based in science." The Environmental Protection Agency, for one, allowed BP to use chemical dispersants in the Gulf despite a complete lack of science. It appears that this oversight is the reason the spill has created massive plumes of oil, some of which will drift to the Florida coast, carving a swath of destruction as they do. We covered this in a post Friday.

Levine, a Republican who had a similar title in Florida under Jeb Bush, acknowledges that it's awkward for him and for other Republicans to be faulting government when the party so often looks to shrink government -- including Levine's current boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal. "I think Bobby believes that there are a few core functions of government," Levine wrote. "Among them: protect us from foreign enemies and protect us during a national crisis."

A government that's "too expansive," Levine adds, tends to flunk these most basic tests. Making matters worse, the Obama administration's reflex for a moratorium on ocean drilling deals a vicious blow to the Louisiana economy at a time when it's particularly vulnerable.

Finally, Levine says, bureaucracy is strangling progress, and he wishes Obama would be more aggressive in using his power to clear that away. "His intentions, I'm sure, are good," says Levine of the president. "But if he takes his eyes off [the growing bureaucracy] for even a little bit of time, it will get away from him."

The larger point, though, is that while the oil continues to flow into the Gulf, it transcends politics -- and those are the moments that Levine has come to appreciate. Following a ride Sunday in a Blackhawk helicopter, he was astonished to run into the actor-turned-activist Tim Robbins.

"Now, this is a guy who I politically am on the opposite side of the spectrum from," says Levine of the ultraliberal Robbins. "But when I told him who I was, the first thing he said was, 'What can I do to help?' I really was moved by that."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Francis