The BP disaster is the oil company's responsibility -- and it is Barack Obama's moment. There is no better time and place to unequivocally assert the President's voice than now in the Gulf with a BP summit. Get back to the Gulf, redouble efforts to stop the gusher, and engage with the people.
The BP disaster has become a national Rorshach test: what you see in it depends on what you think. Look at the BP gusher hemmoraging crude from the center of the earth and what do you see? Some look at the BP disaster and see oil addiction run amok; others see an accident that, while tragic, should not stop us from drilling. I see the BP disaster hemmoraging crude oil, jobs, ecosystems, and our faith technology and human institutions that were supposed to help us conquer the elements and mitigate disaster.
So profound is the BP disaster that time from the deadly explosion is marked pre-BP and post-BP. Pre-BP, when President Obama acceded to oil patch calls for expanded drilling, I called it a "Sister Souljah moment with Mother Earth;" post-BP, Mother Earth has struck back with a vengeance. Every gush of crude makes me horrified for the Gulf and grateful for the generation of California activism to keep oil derricks off our pristine coast and to invest in renewable energy. Pre-BP, "drill baby drill" chanters mocked our environmental ethic shaped by the Santa Barbara oil spill and defended by Senator Barbara Boxer; today, the BP gusher mutes those chants, especially in fishing and tourism communities. Pre-BP, we Barbara Boxer fans in were scoffed at by Republicans and reporters alike who said "enviros" have a "flaky" agenda unconnected to California jobs; post-BP, those scoffs are tempered as the Gulf Coast hemmorage yields a jobs hemmorage in all walks of life. Pre-BP, Governor Schwarzenegger wanted California's coastal commission to OK drilling off Santa Barbara's Tranquillion Ridge; post BP, Arnold has "terminated" that call. Pre-BP, right wing critics derided calls for "smart government" as socialist; post-BP, some of them join calls for a federal takeover while others like Sarah Palin call for a "smart government" response to the BP disaster. Pre-BP, the President's cerebral calm in a crisis was a sign of good judgment; now, we'd like more emotional engagement. Pre-BP, we had the technology; post-BP, we learn that we only get what we inspect, not what we expect. Pre-BP, Gulf Coast working families were just rebuilding their lives after Katrina and Rita; post-BP, the hemmorage will wreak environmental, economic, and emotional havoc.
Post-BP, what is to be done? Should the federal government take over? No. We could federalize or militarize every private sector or natural disaster, for the sake of having someone take control, but that offends our cherished Constitutional rights and civil liberties.The federal government should not take over the BP disaster, but President Obama should take over the federal government. His agencies and spokespeople must all speak with one voice -- his. All hands on deck: stop the cozy oil industry relationships, get focused on recovery efforts, and for heaven's sake. turn off the pornTopics of inquiry for the BP Summit:
- Do the governors want the President to declare a national disaster? If so, they should ask him on national television and explain what results that would yield.
- What can the military do? If this happened in the Persian Gulf war zone, would our military be calling in BP or doing this ourselves?
- Are we crowdsourcing enough? What technologies were used in the recent past, such as with the gusher off Australia?
- What dispersants will cause the least health risk to the people and gulf ecosystems? Where would you build the berms?
- What does BP have to say for itself? Where are the BP documents with data that would help scientists, the government and the public understand how much oil is flowing into the Gulf and how best to respond to it. We can see the BP gusher - now let's see what BP knew beforehand.
- What can the public do - what is the call to service here?
- Cards on the table - what is the progress report for the American people?
I certainly don't expect any president to dive down to plug the leak himself, but he's got to try everything short of a federal takeover to help lead us physically and psychologically out of this mess. A BP summit is the place to start.
UPDATE: MAY 25 NOON PT: Now that the White House has announced a return visit to the Gulf Coast for this Friday, May 28, I await a transparent and frank discussion.