The president last night addressed the nation on the oil slick, nearly two months into the disaster. He seems stunned that a single man in Washington is being held responsible for either a human error that is polluting the gulf, or an act of god that led to a tragic chain of events, inevitable at some point when drilling from 5,000 feet above the ocean floor.
Do not we see the injustice of it all, of holding a green Mr. Obama culpable for either the blowout or the tardy and insufficient efforts at clean-up? Does Obama appoint another “czar?” Does he do to BP what he did to Las Vegas, the saw-happy surgeons, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News? Is the spill to oil companies what the 2008 panic was to GM? Is there some sort of cash-for-clunkers PR fix? A Bush memo to be found ordering drilling from a zillion feet? Perhaps another “wise Latina,” or an “Oooh. Van Jones, alright! So, Van Jones” to recruit?
What to do? Where to turn? Whom to blame? Who unfairly established this strange post-Katrina precedent that the president of all people — not the mayor, not the governor, not private enterprise — is ultimately responsible?
We can all question that unfair premise, and did so in 2005, but critics like Obama himself made the federal response to Katrina a campaign issue. And so here we are with him hoisted with his own petard.
That old meany goddess Nemesis is at work again, causing havoc nearly in the identical spot as Katrina (but of course)— focusing on the young technocrat who so loudly blamed the “incompetence” of Bush during the New Orleans mess. Now our Oedipus is reduced to raging in his halls against BP, with thousands of hard-working Louisianans and other Gulfers the losers for this divine reminder about the wages of hubris.
Given the dearth of Obama’s executive experience, and given what we know of community organizing, and in light of what we saw in the 2008 campaign, the president is pretty much acting to script. Readers, you know it well by now and saw it again last night.
A) Talk in soaring hope and change platitudes without saying much of anything: no review of the actual mechanisms to close the well; no specific systematic overview of various ways of cleaning up the mess; no references to future contingency plans should present efforts come up short. We are back to the Victory Column or Cairo speech, and have the gasbag Edward Everett Hale at Gettysburg when we needed a concise Lincoln.
B) Blaming “them” — as in, after 18 months, the Bush moles are still burrowed deeply into the regulatory agencies thwarting hope and change. Apparently it took the BP spill to remind Sec. Salazar and Obama just how ubiquitous the Bush incompetents and rascals were in their midst. Somehow Halliburton will find its way into the narrative (if it has not already). We get the script: each time Obama screws up, a new discovery is made that a Bushite was in deep cover and only now is found out.
C) Sue! Well before the oil stops, we are interested instead on how to punish BP. But this is the proverbial cart before the horse. There is plenty of time to force BP to cough up punitive damages; but one does not demonize the company who is, for better or worse, trying to clean up as the oil pours out. (This reminds me of a farmer who stood screaming over his son and his friends in a packing house yard. The boy in reckless fashion has flipped a truck with eight pallets of Santa Rosa plums on it. As thousands of plums were rolling over the asphalt, instead of organizing a pick-up, the irate dad kept screaming reminders to the son exactly how much he had lost and how he was going to have to come up with thousands of dollars in restitution (the son, of course, did not work too hard with his friends in finding salvageable fruit on the tarmac and repacking what he could).
Add in the British pique at having Obama call out “British Petroleum” (officially is it not “Beyond Petroleum”?) in tones that suggest a sort of 1812 raid on the White House (in the context of the gift-giving mess, the bust fiasco, the Brown slap downs, the neutrality on the Falklands, the put down about the “special relationship,” and on and on, all reminding the British that they are getting the Israel treatment).
D) “Never miss a crisis.” Let me get this straight: as oil gushes forth, we are to use this disaster as a teachable moment to go the wind and solar route. OK, but fairly or not, the message to the shrimpers and hotel owners of the Gulf is: “Your misery has some didactic value for the rest of us, since after your Gulf is destroyed, we will shut down your rigs to ensure permanent poverty follows your misery.”