Post-wellcapping reports of "missing" oil contributed to message failure by giving the impression that Obama's administration simply wanted the oil to vanish from media attention, and was therefore declaring "Mission Accomplished." The White House certainly could have done better. Steadily-climbing spill estimates should have been avoided by coming up with two or three scenarios and publicly crossing fingers. Widespread reports of BP harrassing, intimidating, and banishing reporters from beaches invited all the wrong comparisons to Katrina and Bush.
It really wasn't a fair fight. BP has practiced this scenario many times in the global south: corporate message-makers deny, minimize, and suborn state agencies. The EPA is in such a state of deep capture after three decades of anti-government governance that it lacked power to stop BP from inserting a Corexit spout directly into the flow of oil. BP also had the tools, personnel, and resources to deal with the blowout, whereas the United States government did not. Without any real way to produce results in the Gulf, White House message-men took advantage of the Beltway preference for narrative over things like fluid dynamics and chemistry. The facts?! Who cares...
And so we all wonder about missing oil instead of learning anything. See how that works? Much more after the jump and this very non-metal video:
President Obama put his plaid shirt and populist tone on in his weekly address this week, challenging all of us to stand with those who have lost so much to this man-made catastrophe. Speaking from Grand Isle, Louisiana:
These are hard times in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast, an area that has already seen more than its fair share of troubles. But what we have also seen these past few weeks is that – even in the face of adversity – the men and women of the Gulf have displayed incredible determination. They have met this terrible catastrophe with seemingly boundless strength and character in defense of their way of life. What we owe the people of this region is a commitment by our nation to match the resilience of all the people I’ve met along the Gulf Coast. That is our mission. And it’s one we will fulfill.
He called specifically for Americans to continue to visit the area, reminding everyone that there are still beaches untouched by the oil at this time.
He also updated the progress of the cap placement and vent closures on the well.
Now, over the last few days BP has placed a cap over the well, and it appears they’re making progress in trying to pump oil to the surface to keep it from leaking into the water. But as has been the case since the beginning of this crisis, we are prepared for the worst, even as we hope that BP’s efforts bring better news than we’ve received before. We also know that regardless of the outcome of this attempt, there will still to be some spillage until the relief wells are completed. And there will continue to be a massive cleanup ahead of us.
I doubt there are many among us who can look at the photos of oil-soaked birds and dead dolphins without shaking a fist at BP, Halliburton and their cohorts. But to me, it seems like fist-shaking doesn't really do much to improve the situation. I know everyone wants the President to get angry and show it, to have empathy for those folks in the Gulf. I believe he does. But wouldn't it be more beneficial for him to channel that anger into action?
In the time-honored American tradition of telling the President what to do, I'd like to offer the following suggestions:
Set benchmarks with dates and percentage reductions in fossil fuel use. Just like JFK set a mark in the future for putting a man on the moon, I think a national mandate to reduce fossil fuel usage would be one way to begin to make good on the commitment for a true transition.
Push hard for regional permits to begin the high-speed train construction included in the Stimulus bill.
Consider a modern-day Citizens Conservation Corps as a down payment on stewardship of our national parks and natural resources nationwide.
Call on Congress to pass legislation encouraging safe bike thruways, and not just in cities, but also in semi-rural areas. People who ride bicycles are at constant risk from the trucks and cars on the same thruways.
Increase government investment beyond current levels in solar and wind technologies while setting benchmarks for communities to convert, with incentives for meeting them.
This strikes me as a time where we can respond in an effective, quantifiable way to move boldly toward breaking our dependence on fossil fuels. To me, that would feel better than simply shaking my fist or signing a petition.