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Obama’s Trips to the Gulf Serve an Important Need

Posted on Jun 7, 2010
White House / Chuck Kennedy

President Barack Obama and Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph, left, inspect a tar ball as they look at the effect the BP oil spill is having on Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon, La.

Truthdig has a stable of first-class columnists, and one of them is Ruth Marcus, who became a regular on the website last year. To say that her résumé is good is like saying Kobe Bryant is a good basketball player: Marcus is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law; was a finalist for a Pulitzer in 2007; is an editorial writer for The Washington Post; and writes a weekly column that appears in that esteemed publication as well as in other print outlets and on Internet sites including Truthdig.

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As an editor for Truthdig, I have happily read most of her recent work, including her June 3 column. In that essay she makes a number of insightful points centering on the idea that it’s foolish for the media and the White House to resort to “theater criticism” in appraising President Barack Obama’s handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As usual, I found myself in agreement with her as I worked my way through the article. But then I was stopped by a passage. And later, by another. 

The first:

It’s a necessary, if somewhat silly, part of the job to have, as quickly as possible, the Official Presidential Visit to the disaster site, with the chief executive looking appropriately grim. [Italics mine.]

The second:


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The White House, I fear, is taking the wrong lesson from the barrage of criticism. They are rushing Obama back to the Gulf for another visit Friday [June 4]. To what end? Because the president’s presence will help anyone in the Gulf—or because it will help the president? The real test is in the doing, not the showy symbolism.

Those lines lingered with me, and the more I turned them over in my mind the more I found myself agreeing heartily with parts of the sentences but disagreeing with other parts of the same sentences.

Marcus is one of many commentators weighing in on a tragedy that came after a tragedy: First 11 men died in an offshore oil rig explosion and then crude spread throughout vast areas of the Gulf and onto some Louisiana beaches and marshes. Last week’s column rightly argues that it’s not important whether Obama’s jaw tightens in anger when he speaks of the oil spill; rather, she writes, what’s important is to find out how the accident happened, whether government failure was involved, how a recurrence can be avoided, and how the flow of oil can be stemmed.

I’m distressed by what is happening along the coast of the state in which I grew up. This is the fifth heavy blow that Louisiana has taken since August of 2005—hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, and now this.

I spent the first part of my life in a tiny town in southwest Louisiana about 25 miles northwest of Holly Beach and Cameron, coastal communities on the so-called Cajun Riviera. Like almost everyone else in the area I was deeply aware of the importance of the Gulf waters and the coastal wetlands to the local economy and culture. I was also aware of the importance of oil drilling. In my boyhood years in the South, there was little controversy over whether oil exploration was the right thing to do, and in some sections of southern Louisiana the argument over the question of drilling has yet to gain much traction.

Both of my grandfathers, like so many men of the middle or lower class, worked at times in the “oil patch.” It was hard work, dirty and dangerous. I recall the funeral of a classmate who died days after his oil-soaked overalls ignited, and another schoolmate’s tale of falling from a derrick. Danger aside, the jobs were welcome and eagerly sought by workers; oil was king years ago in those parts, and it is king now, for better or worse. The pay on the rigs can be good, especially for those who work offshore. Roughnecks, roustabouts and others spend long periods out in the Gulf, where there are few opportunities to spend the money they are earning; many of them are packing hefty paychecks when they set foot on land again.

The Deepwater Horizon accident and its aftermath have been an emotional whipsaw for south Louisiana, churning it with conflicting forces. The oil industry—drilling, refineries and related operations—is an essential economic engine for the area, but that industry has now spawned unimaginable pollution that threatens to destroy beaches, marshes, sport fishing, commercial fishing, shrimping, oyster harvests, pleasure boating, tourism and other activities and businesses. Many of those who depend on oil for their livelihoods feel as though the hand that has long fed them, and will do so in the future, is now brutalizing them.

The damage to Louisiana’s morale has been evident in my phone calls from Los Angeles to friends and relatives and in my reading of news accounts filed by the hundreds of reporters now prowling the state’s shoreline. Most of the residents there did not see what was to come when the first word of the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was broadcast. After all, folks in oil drilling and refining areas tend to have a fatalistic acceptance of the fact that there will occasionally be explosions and fires and loss of life. But within days, after the rig sank, it was clear that this was not a run-of-the-mill oil field accident.

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, June 11, 2010 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment

Only children need leaders so it’s very lucky we’ve got a lot of children (intellectually-speaking).

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By tedmurphy41, June 9, 2010 at 7:34 am Link to this comment

Unless something very specific comes out of these visits, then it’s only smoke and mirrors.
The American want results and they want them now.

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By dannyfree, June 9, 2010 at 6:48 am Link to this comment

Oh my!  The President is angry! Can’t you see those naughty oil executives and bankers quaking in their boots!

What a bunch of B.S.  How far are you going to go to cover-up for Obama and the ghastly wreck of Democratic Party liberalism? (Rhetorical Question). Don’t you think there will be more BP-type disasters in the U.S. and elsewhere as long as the economic system (private ownership of our resources and major productive facilities, i.e. global capitalism) survives? 

Sadly, the politics of ostensibly well-intentioned people such as the author are out there propping up the system.  Wake up folks. If you’re not entirely set in your belief in the capacity of this system to be “reformed”, consider or re-consider “Socialism”.  Begin with reading the World Socialist Website—
New York, NY

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By ofersince72, June 7, 2010 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment

would add,  we can’t vote ourselves out of this either,
can’t happen and won’t happen.

by the way , was anyone watching the BP moniters
the Friday night before Memorial Day? If you saw what
me and a few others did, what did you make of that??

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By ofersince72, June 7, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

I agree with everything that the man with his nose
hanging over the fence said..

would add,  we can’t vote ourselves out of this either,
can’t happen and won’t happen.

by the way , was anyone watching the BP moniters
the Friday night before Memorial Day? If you saw what
me and a few others did, what did you make of that??

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By TheBrix57, June 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment

It would possibly be much better if our President were to actually spend a few days in the regions that have been devastated. The quick fly in and fly out does not give anyone any experience in what others of the region are experiencing. Quick little interviews with those that can be passed by security in a short time, then on to another quick interview with a political figure. Then we get the photo op with everyone standing around in all those clean, expensive clothes. There isn’t a speck of oil on any of them.

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By Debby, June 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Determined to project both command and compassion, President Barack Obama is returning to the Louisiana coast for a fresh reality check on work to stanch the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and the spiraling effects of the nation’s worst environmental disaster. The president underscored his focus on the Gulf by abruptly canceling plans for a trip to Indonesia and Australia later this month.

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skulz fontaine's avatar

By skulz fontaine, June 7, 2010 at 9:36 am Link to this comment

You’ve certainly got to admit that Obama has got the “looking presidential” part
down pat. The actual “being presidential” has so far eluded the man. I mean really,
hasn’t America’s presidency turned into the art of illusion? Our ‘commander-in-
cheese’ really doesn’t actually do very much. Well except and maybe, get
mountains of young American service boys and girls killed and worse for wars of
naked aggression. Commit war crimes by way of predator drones. Sanction
torture, sanction international terrorism by way of Israeli murder and piracy in
international waters, and do absolutely nothing regarding environmental terrorism
and that would be Obama’s pals at BP. If the Obama wanted to “be presidential” he
should have ordered the FBI to slap Hayward and his slick oil partners at BP in
cuffs and get them doing the perp-walk down the aisle on way to a nifty federal
jail. If nothing else, a move such as that might have cheered those suffering,
AGAIN, along the Gulf Coast.

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