CRUDE AWAKENING: OBAMA V. “DRILL BABY DRILL”
By. C. Stone Brown
In retrospect, April 20th, the day of the BP oil rig explosion, was President Obama’s “red phone” moment. It’s the moment presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton warned about in a campaign ad, questioning whether the inexperienced then-Sen. Obama would be ready to handle a crisis at 3 am. From that point forward, the two candidates sparred over who would be ready on “day one.”
According to a recent CBS poll (June 16-20), the American public harbors real concerns about Obama’s response to the oil disaster. A majority – 61 percent – says the president’s response was slow; more importantly, only 31 percent say they have a lot of confidence in his ability to handle a crisis.
The swift erosion of public confidence is unfortunate, given the political equity Obama should be receiving after passing historic healthcare reform only months ago.
Still, the greatness of a president is often measured by decisive handling of crisis situations. And for that reason, critics of President Obama have increasingly referred to the BP oil disaster as “Obama’s Katrina.” In other words, they are comparing the Deep Water Horizon oil spill response to the Bush administration’s too little, too late response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
But is this comparison fair? Unlike Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil disaster was caused by a private company, and came without any warning.
President Bush had time to prepare for what became the most fatal hurricane in U.S. history, leaving more than 1,800 people dead. The Obama administration had no time to prepare for one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S history. Critics of the president, however, point to the lack of urgency in getting containment booms in place to protect the wetlands and beaches.
Certainly politics has plenty to do with the oil spill/Katrina comparisons. If you voted for Bush, you probably see the oil spill as an opportunity to pounce on Obama. If you voted for Obama, you see the comparison as a stretch of logic. But what’s overwhelmingly clear is this: the people who live, work and own seafood businesses along the coastal parishes of Louisiana, and whose passionate and heartfelt stories come to us via the Internet and cable news, voted Republican by an average margin of 70 percent in the 2008 presidential election.
What does this mean? The people whose way of life has been destroyed by the oil spill had voted for the McCain/Palin ticket — a team whose slogan of “drill baby drill” embodied the Republican push for unfettered off-shore drilling. The sober reality of what they voted for can best be described as a crude awakening.
While the oil spill/Katrina comparison makes for interesting headlines in these partisan times, a more useful comparison is the ideological thread linking the Gulf oil spill and another crisis on Obama’s plate: Financial reform.
The thousands of barrels of crude that continue to gush each day into the Gulf waters were preceded by the foreclosure geyser that sprung a leak in 2007, evicting thousand of ordinary Americans from their homes – even to this day. So it’s no surprise that when valves aren’t tightened, ruptures occur.
The financial crisis and the oil crisis share the same ideological laissez-faire DNA. Pick an industry, Wall Street or big oil—conservatives have a zombie-like obedience to the mantra of deregulating big business. It has led to the casino atmosphere on Wall Street, and the federal mismanagement of drilling contracts for big oil. Today, we are paying the price for that approach, with no end in sight.
Until Democrats and Republicans, and their constituents, come to the realization that both sides win when government properly regulates big industry, it won’t be long before this or a future president has another industry-related “red phone” moment.
C. Stone Brown is a freelance political journalist, who lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org