Only too helpful
By Joseph Randolph
This past week I heard the American historian Douglas Brinkley deem "unhelpful" any judgment that President Obama might use the oil spill in the Gulf to stop all offshore drilling. One scarcely knows what to make of such a judgment, but I will nevertheless venture a verdict against Brinkley's judgment, since he seems to spurn even the suspicion that a politician might harvest an opportunity for himself from a disaster.
If the President does take political advantage of the incident to water his own political garden, then the President might need to congratulate Brinkley and his loyal ilk for their intended aid. That is, if we take Brinkley's advice of not suspecting political opportunity, we are apt to miss any mischief we might otherwise suspect, because we were cautioned not to look because we had no reason to suspect. This would be a game of a politician-allowed-to-hide-and-people-not-allowed-to-seek—and who would win in that contest?
For while we look away and for politics above partisanship, the opportunity for partisan opportunism may in fact be seized by the White House. This should not be as utterly incomprehensible as Brinkley pretends it to be. Historically politicians of various stripes and malleable core values have lowered themselves to such depths. An oil spill issuing beneath miles of Gulf waters is thus hardly out of the question of possible political fuel. A historian, above all other people, knows that, but Brinkley apparently has more faith in his President than the accumulated wisdom of his own profession.
Indeed, we will only have to wait and see whether the President does or does not use the incident for his own political gain—with apologies to Brinkley for an "unhelpful" remark.
After the November 2008 election, Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Obama's feisty chief of staff, advised that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you could not do before." The strident Emanuel is of course contending that one can sometimes make gargantuan gains beyond the normal when the opposition is weakened by a situation one can use to great advantage against them. Thus, one acquires the best traction when the ground is shaking, or when oil is spewing and contaminating something the oil would never contaminate—if the oil had stayed at home and under the ocean floor and away from relentless profiteers.
Permit me to offer some further "unhelpful" speculation about this oil in water. When the opportunity to announce some new piece of energy policy happens, in light of this incident in the Gulf, there will be little hint or admission of opportunism harvested from the incident, but instead the angst of a soul that took the cosmos and planet into consideration above our own selfish selves. The President will be apt to portray his decisions as undertaken with excruciating pain, nevertheless. But on the long view, the planet had to be considered before we think of ourselves, again, and thus it will be best—as the incident in the Gulf shows only too well—that we withdraw our encroachment upon the sea floor before we disrupt anymore of nature's delicate balancing act between creation and carnage. The whole country—on land and sea—will venture a little closer to protecting itself as a gigantic ANWAR.
But before that, and so that we can start to live happily thereafter—because of a duly noted oil leak in the Gulf—protest and perhaps legislation against any and all drilling will perhaps spill into speeches every bit as bad as the oil spill in the Gulf. Prophets will curse the day we ever allowed the staining sins of oil to blight our nation.
By contrast, and knowing that accidents will happen in anything one does, conservatives do not sit at home out of habits of fear, but take to feet and wagons and boats and cars and planes and rockets. These ventures require muscles or fuels. Our political opponents, however, simply wait for any accident to happen in order to impugn the ground we tread upon as too dangerous to venture locomotion at all, except perhaps for some minimal hunting and gathering, though mostly the latter. This is pretty romanticism at its most putrid, which is to say, at its most destructive.
This is not change we can believe in, but ruin we should resist. With respect to Brinkley, this is not to question merely the motives of a politician such as the President—in a time of crisis—but to fear even more, much more, the dire consequences of any opportunistic motivations. Brinkley and his warning can go unheeded.
Joseph Randolph is an academic and writer living in Wisconsin. His 2010 book Debilitating Democracy: Power From The People, is available from Wasteland Press and Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.