If there was an opportunity to create Change We Can Believe In on the environmental front this is it. Really. No kidding. It's been handed to Obama on a silver platter with a side of other relevant policies that could impacted by real, proactive, progressive leadership.
But then, I remembered: it's been all too obvious already that our current President cares more about future campaign donations from the corporate set. Why should this time be any different?
Paul Krugman, always prescient, said it perfectly today in his NY Times column:
...let’s admit it: by and large, the anti-environmentalists have been winning the argument, at least as far as public opinion is concerned.
Then came the gulf disaster. Suddenly, environmental destruction was photogenic again.
For the most part, anti-environmentalists have been silent about the catastrophe. True, Mr. Limbaugh — arguably the Republican Party’s de facto leader — promptly suggested that environmentalists might have blown up the rig to head off further offshore drilling. But that remark probably reflected desperation: Mr. Limbaugh knows that his narrative has just taken a big hit.
For the gulf blowout is a pointed reminder that the environment won’t take care of itself, that unless carefully watched and regulated, modern technology and industry can all too easily inflict horrific damage on the planet.
Will America take heed? It depends a lot on leadership. In particular, President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the "Drill, baby, drill" crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.
The Gulf BP oil spill is an aching makes-you-want-to-cry disaster. Consider the current situation just from an environmental point of view (not including the human lives lost, another tragic layer of this shit sandwich). The flow of oil has yet to be plugged and estimates that at best the Gulf has a week to go before the gusher is stopped. Sea turtles and other wildlife are washing ashore dead. The flow of the ocean current will now carry much of the slick towards the fragile Florida Keys. So, from Eastern Texas shore all the way the Florida Keys, we have a potential catastrophe. And yet, here is the latest from the Obama White House, courtesy of the Huffington Post:
The Obama administration said on Monday that it remains "premature" to rule out including additional offshore drilling as part of comprehensive energy legislation, even as Senate Democrats warn that such a provision would make the bill "dead on arrival."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the president will determine whether to stay with or abandon his call for additional drilling off various parts of the coast once he gets the findings of an investigation into the massive oil spill in the Gulf.
Translation: we already made a Big Deal with Big Oil to include offshore drilling in the energy legislation so we're not going to back down. We have to take care of our gravy train too just in time for the 2010 Midterms. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Just like Obama made a deal with Big Pharma and the insurance industry to bargain away our rights to cheaper drugs and a public option, so too will this chance to initiate a real impact on environmental, domestic and foreign policy pass while Big Biz gets away with creating a screw job on the rest of us. We're getting oil soaked sand kicked in our faces and Obama acts like a helpless spectator - enabling the plutocrats yet again.
Let's put aside the obvious environmental lessons the Great Orator could be teaching US citizens and look at the other tie-ins. This rig explosion came on the heals of mining accidents that also highlighted bad environmental policy with an undercurrent of human and wilderness exploitation. Here, to give him his due, Obama had plenty to say about how government had failed the American miners in this case, and there may be positive action taken to further mining safety.
Now he has an opportunity to take the narrative on corporate employee and environmental exploitation several steps further to the real cost of a barrel of oil - to the big profits made by a few share holders thanks in reality to government subsidies while adding just a few drops in the oil supply tank.
Is this really what we all want? The workers are considered expendable. The land is considered expendable. Our land. Our children's children land. BP put their profits above taking care of our natural resources and its employees. Profits first. Everything else last. Our American dream is in reality a nightmare.
It doesn't have to be this way. Millions of people came out in November of 2008 so it didn't have to be this way.
Consider how it could be going:
Obama withdraws his support just a like a certain high profile governor just did earlier today (thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger) telling Americans that it's time to go in a new direction. He backs this decision with the raw pictures of the initial explosion and destruction of the drilling platform followed by satellite visuals of the spreading blob consuming ecosystems and wildlife in its maw.
He puts additional people to work helping cleaning up the mess, pronto. He calls for a task force to work with Congressional leaders to draft a new way forward energy bill. One that will add more wind, solar, wave technology, etc while also funding new research. The flip side would be more money to light rail and public transportation to - gasp - put more people to work while lifting our dependence on gas guzzling vehicles in the long run.
This man had HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people mobilized on Inauguration Day. He had the populist power behind him. I watched him throw water on his own fire starting with his coddling of the bankers strait out of the TARP bail out to be followed by the White House meeting with the health care industry powers.
Please, Obama, please rethink your priorities. It's SMART to fight for the American people over the top 1%. We'll back you up. We really will. And think about it for a minute. It might be your only way to save yourself from the dustbin of history as JUST the first black President. Lead and you'll have volumes and volumes written about your greatness, just like Teddy Roosevelt and FDR after him, you'll have some future Presidential candidate reading about YOU and the way you steered this country away from the iceberg.
Now, doesn't that sound like the American Dream?