Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
This one could have been mailed in. Sarah Palin predictably knocked President Obama for as she put it in garbled colloquialism failing to “dive in there” and solve the Gulf spill disaster. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and a rash of GOP senators were slightly more grammatically intelligible but still pounced on Obama for being too cozy with BP and not pulling out all stops to staunch the spill. The GOP’s political attack plan is crude and transparent. Compare the Gulf spill to Bush’s Katrina bumble, liken Obama to Bush and heap the same blame on him.
It won’t fly. Before Katrina hit, government tracking systems, weather satellites, and countless news reports warned that the hurricane potentially posed a grave threat to New Orleans and the Gulf. Bush administration officials well knew this. They also knew that the sea walls there were in terrible shape and could give way. When the storm hit, Bush hesitated, dithered, and minimized the immediate impact of the storm, and made no effort to counter the wild, sensational and thoroughly false reports of looting, rape and vandalism. The colossal loss of property, the thousands dead and injured, the horrendous displacement of residents were the direct result of government ineptitude. Five years later thousands remain uprooted, and whole neighborhoods remain gutted. New Orleans and the Gulf are still paying the high price for Bush’s abysmal delay. After an international army of volunteers and donors sped aid and relief to the area, Bush eventually recovered and kicked relief efforts into high gear.
Obama’s response to the Gulf spill stands in stark contrast. He sent cabinet secretaries, and an armada of homeland security, Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA and Coast Guard personnel, engineers, scientists, technicians and clean-up workers to the Gulf; more than 20,000 responders in all. There are multiple staging areas, and ships in the area involved in the clean-up. Nearly 2 million feet of containment boom, and a million gallons of chemical dispersant have been used to fight the spill. Obama has asked Congress for $130 million for clean-up operations. The White House has churned out reams of releases, statements, and reports to keep the public updated on the progress and problems in containing the spill.
Obama correctly points the blame finger at BP and oil executives for their duck and dodge of full responsibility for the spill, and their inability to successfully contain it. They deserve the blame. But as environmental disasters go, off shore drilling spills are rare. The industry’s forty year safety record on drilling has been fairly good. But the BP mess shows that all it takes is one drill disaster to cancel out the industry’s record and paint the industry as a greedy, safety plagued, environmentally irresponsible menace.
The spill should be a wake-up call on the potential and real hazards of ultra deep water oil drilling, and the urgent need to devise new and better safety and equipment standards and controls. The Obama administration has been hands on in supervising BP’s efforts to stop the spill. This provides it with terrible but needed teaching moment on the need for the government to ramp up oversight and monitoring of the industry. And beyond that for the Obama administration to rethink and reexamine the potentially devastating environmental hazards and drawbacks of expanded off shore drilling as well as its potential to dent America’s energy dependent shackle.
Public opinion polls now show that more than half of Americans say they disapprove of Obama’s handling of the disaster. An even bigger percentage says they have no confidence in the government’s ability to prevent another spill. The public’s heightened jitters over the spill are understandable given the nightmare environmental messes that the oil industry has at times made in the past. The public is also right to be deeply suspicious and outraged over the far too lax and cozy relationship between government regulatory agencies and the oil industry.
The Gulf spill, though, is not solely an environmental catastrophe to Palin and the GOP or even a matter to them of government officials in bed with an industry. If that was there real concern they’d point the same blame finger at themselves as they do at Obama for their sweetheart relation with the oil industry. According to the Sunlight Foundation, BP has dumped six million in campaign contributions to congresspersons in past years. Seven of the top ten recipients of BP contributions have been GOP senators and congress persons, and one of the principal recipients has been GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But the facts are irrelevant. The Gulf spill is simply too juicy a political opportunity for the GOP to pass up to ream President Obama for a disaster that he could not foresee, did not make, and has made a best effort to solve. What better way to drive the political nail in the box than to call the Gulf spill the politically loaded Obama’s Katrina. It’s a bogus call.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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