Dear President Obama,
All the good you've done (and all the goodwill many have for you) is about to be undone and forgotten by this mess in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a President's worst nightmare, no doubt. A combination of the wrecked mess of the Louisiana wetlands and the bogeyman of Big Oil at the helm is a nightmare, especially when the aforementioned Big Oil Company has been cozily sleeping with its guards.
The thing is, you're not helping things much. Your weekly video message this week was as much an apologetic for the plan to continue risking our coastline as it was a lukewarm reassurance that everything that could be done was being done. It left me -- someone frequently referred to as an Obama apologist, fangirl, and blind-eyed supporter -- cold. My sense of things was that YOU didn't even believe the line about making sure this never happens again.
Making a promise like that is akin to saying you'll make sure the sun doesn't rise and if it does, it'll rise in the west. It cannot be done. Mr. President. Yet, this is an opportunity for you. A big one. Avail yourself of it. Here are some suggestions:
- Quit putting BP in the front. If ever there was a time for the government to take charge and look like it was taking charge, it's now. If ever the "fierce urgency of now" applied, it's now. If this were a melting-down nuclear plant, you'd be right in front of it. At least, I think you would. [UPDATE: Under the law, government cannot "take over". Oversight is the limit of government's reach.]
- Select a press pool and give them full access to the area. When the press is turned away (particularly a high-profile network like CBS) and told those are "BP rules", I promise you the perception of the general public is that a cover-up is underway. I don't care what your concerns are over security or organization. Transparency is the only hope you have for exposing the danger BP has wrought on our nation. Don't spare them; let the press have full access to report the good and the bad.
- Start talking about what the government IS doing. I don't want to hear half-hearted apologetics for the future. I want to know about the NOW. I've been watching the White House updates, the NOAA updates, the EPA updates, and the Coast Guard updates, so I fully understand that the government has been on it at the start and remains so. Most people don't, even people who support you.
If there is a consistent issue in your administration, it's this: Your side of the story rarely gets in front of people until you're on the defensive. Stories break and then there's a response. How about being a little more pro-active in crafting the message, getting in front of it just a bit? This is not a time for cool-headed calm in front of the cameras and gentle reassurances. Shake your fists like you did last week. Do it again. And again. Every. single. day. We need to know you're as pissed about this as we are, and you're on it.
- Rapidly implement creative citizen-led initiatives. I've seen several just in the past five or six hours. How about letting the folks with the dog hair and nylons work along the coast and wetlands to grab as much of that oil as they possibly can? How about letting volunteers in Florida work to save their coastline before it's stuck with the same fate as the wetlands? Waive whatever red tape has to be waived. Let citizens groupsource their energy, talent and dedication and get to work doing whatever can be done. Empower us to contribute something positive to this effort.
- Employ the unemployed. There's no reason why people can't be employed by the government for the daunting cleanup ahead. Train them, pay them, and let them work. If health hazards are an issue, fully inform them and supply as much protective gear as possible, but get them in there and let them make a difference.
- Stop talking about drilling offshore in the future. Just make it a non-starter.
- Start talking about what we need to sacrifice to save our coastlines. That high speed rail project? Maybe we should pay some extra taxes to expand it and expedite it. (Yeah, I know the eminent domain issues are a big pain, but it's worth it) Stand up and start telling us the brutal truth: If we don't agree to stop depending on oil, we're getting the Gulf we deserve. That's what we need to hear; it's what you need to say. Challenge us to start RIGHT NOW. Today. A national challenge to reduce our oil dependence by the 30% you claim comes from the Gulf. Give us a goal and a hope for the future that isn't oil.
One of the themes of your campaign was "We are the ones we've been waiting for." This is a perfect opportunity to let US be the WE. Rather than enabling our national hunger for oil to destroy beautiful and irreplaceable coastlines, challenge us to save them through national sacrifice. Think of the freedom we all can gain from learning ways to end our oil dependence. Our involvement in the Middle East is all about our thirst for oil. That alone is incentive enough for us to make necessary sacrifices.
The truth is, we all own a piece of this disaster in the Gulf. We can blame BP (and should!), Halliburton and Transocean, but if there were no demand, they wouldn't be drilling deeper and farther out. The best public response to this disaster is collective, shared sacrifice. Spreading blame is fine, but only if each and every person in this country is willing to accept their piece of it.
It's not enough to shake our fists at the big, bad Big Oil companies and continue consuming oil and oil-based products at a record pace. This is where you can lead us to the future rather than leaving us stuck in the past. I believe you can do it.
Yes, you can. Will you?
cross-posted at odd time signatures