The death toll in the West Virginia mining accident has now reached 25, with the recovery efforts suspended for now because the area is not safe for rescue workers. At this time, our hearts all go out to the families of the workers who perished in this horrible tragedy.
Reading news accounts of the event, it strikes me that during the Bush administration, disasters like this were immediately seized upon to score political points. Specifically, when the Sago mine disaster happened in 2006, it was used as yet another example of Bush rewarding oversight positions to corporate allies who would allow lax standards to prevail.
For instance, in the wake of the Sago tragedy, Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress wrote a column entitled, “How Many Brownies are there in this Administration?” He wrote that, “The terrible story from West Virginia that blanketed the nation’s television screens this week should be a further reminder of the cost of corrupt and incompetent government.” Noting that the Sago mine had a horrible safety record, Llly asked rhetorically why nothing was done. “The answer to that is directly attributable to the individuals in whose hands the safety of miners and other workers has been placed by this administration and the prevailing mind set within the administration on any issue in which business interests differs from those of workers,” he wrote.
The New York Times editorialized that, “As inspectors delve into the deadly mine disaster in Sago, W.Va., their starting premise must be that the explosion that choked off 12 workers’ lives would never have happened if all the safety rules now on the books had been properly enforced.” The editorial recommended that, “in accounting for the deaths, inspectors should look as well into the budget cutbacks and staff attrition that have marked the Bush administration’s management of its own ranks in the Mine Safety and Health Administration.” And went on to blast “government laxity” and to argue that “the Bush administration’s main attention to the coal industry has been to appoint a raft of political appointees directly from energy corporations to critical regulatory posts.”
If, like me, you went to a lot of liberal events during the Bush years, there was a drumbeat of criticism about how Bush’s Department of Labor (which oversees the Mine Safety and Health Administration) consistently put business interests ahead of worker safety. President Obama was supposed to put an end to all of that by appointing more “pro labor” officials. Yet this week’s mine tragedy — sadly, even worse than Sago — also occured at a mine that had racked up a litinany of safety citations and fines leading up to the disaster.
Now, to be clear, I don’t want to follow the liberal playbook and immediately seize on a tragedy to attack the president, and I’m not trying to pin the blame on Obama for this event when a lot still remains unknown and rescue operations have not ended. But I do think it’s worth remembering how the blame game worked when Bush was president.