Middle of Nowhere Productions

Middle of Nowhere Productions

Who's to blame for the Gulf Oil Spill?




Thursday, May. 27, 2010

Who's to Blame for the Gulf Oil Spill?

By Joe Klein



My favorite metaphor, among the myriad gushing forth from the Great Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is the "junk shot." The notion that the propulsion of man-made garbage — chunks of metal, knotted ropes, golf balls (!) and so forth — into the mess of busted pipes might stanch the flow of liquid-carbon garbage had a certain ring to it. Let the junk bury the junk. It seemed so perfectly polluted, but then everything about the disaster reeked of garbage. British Petroleum, the perpetrator of the mess, had greened its logo in recent years, noisily announced its commitment to environmentalism and styled itself as Beyond Petroleum, which was a prime example of postmodern, focus-grouped fecal marketing. Even the chemical that BP sprayed to disperse the spill, a product hilariously called Corexit, was toxic when used in such large quantities, according to the government. Reality had taken its revenge: BP now stood for Biggest Polluter. Indeed, the uncontrolled corruption of the spill — the failure of government, business and technology to manage an essential, if archaic, resource — beggared all human pretense. Nature was mocking the conservative faith in untrammeled market freedom and the liberal faith that market excesses can be regulated.

The Republican Party seemed an especially fat target for Mother Earth's satiric vengeance. It was, after all, the party that had branded itself with the slogan "Drill, baby, drill" during the 2008 presidential campaign, a party that busily denied the mass of scientific evidence about global carbon pollution. Rush Limbaugh first speculated that the spill might have been the work of environmental terrorists but then settled on this remarkable formulation: "The ocean will take care of this on its own." The oil was "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." Thus Rush upended several millenniums of "oil and water" adages. Less foolish but no less feckless was Rand Paul — the Tea Party's Kentucky tribune and hero to high school libertarians everywhere — who dismissed the disaster with a blithe "Accidents happen." This echoed Donald Rumsfeld's famous line after the anarchic looting broke out in Baghdad: "Stuff happens." But this sort of stuff is more likely to happen when government refuses to plan and regulate for worst-case scenarios.

The more predictable Republican response to an event so inconvenient to the party's ideology was to blame Barack Obama. Sarah Palin accused Obama of being in bed with Big Oil — an accusation that, like oil itself, was rich and crude, given her own and her party's close ties to the petroleum industry. Sean Hannity called the spill "Obama's Katrina," but it was actually George W. Bush's second Katrina. Vice President Dick Cheney, fresh from his days at Halliburton, had presided over the weakening of drilling regulations, including the exclusion of remote-shut-off switches (commonly used in the North Sea oil fields), which might have prevented the disaster. The Bush Administration's petro-bias and antigovernment sensibility soiled the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency charged with regulating offshore drilling.

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