The audacity of nope

Obama silent on safety of BP workers

Am I the odd man out, or are there other Democrats who think President Obama is doing a piss-poor job of helping people made sick by BP’s poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico?

Certain facts are obvious. BP’s reaction to its oil-gush disaster – blanket denials, wagon circling, finger-pointing – marks a new low in the long history of corporate criminality. It’s no surprise that the company discouraged the use of respirators among workers involved in its half-hearted clean-up efforts. To do otherwise would be a tacit admission that skimming crude oil is a health hazard and would leave the company open to sky-high liability claims. Tony Hayward and his corporate cronies won’t let this happen, not without a fight. These guys would kill us all to keep BP afloat, and they’d make sure their PR department put a good spin on the slaughter.

But we already knew about BP. The mystery here is Barack Obama. Last month the president persuaded BP to set up a $20 billion escrow fund for those whose livelihoods are damaged by the ongoing spill – a lot of money, though not nearly enough for a disaster of this magnitude. But what is he doing now, this summer, to protect the health of BP’s victims? Why did it take, a petition initiated last week by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), to call attention to the plight of those doing BP’s dirty work? Why hasn’t Obama issued a statement condemning BP’s disregard for workers’ safety concerns?

In the June 28 New Yorker Heinrik Hertzberg argued that Obama’s efforts to help the Gulf Coast, and his public image, have been undermined by House and Senate Republicans determined to block all initiatives that might help him win re-election in 2012. Good point, Heinrik, but you gloss over the extent to which Obama’s problems are a consequence of his inability to lead.

A leader – someone with a basic understanding of how to drum up public support for important legislation – doesn’t parse words in an effort to appease opponents of the public good (see Obama’s anemic June 15th speech re the spill). He doesn’t let oil industry lackeys paint him as a villain for trying to protect us against the poor, defenseless multinational that has all but destroyed maritime businesses in the Gulf states. Instead, he finds a way to articulate public outrage at BP and its Republican apologists.

Yesterday, Mother Jones magazine reported that more than 60,000 Americans have signed the PCCC petition, which states: “President Obama and the federal government must demand that BP allow every clean-up worker who wants to wear respiratory protective equipment to do so—and ensure that workers get the equipment and training they need to do their jobs safely.”

Still not a peep out of Obama.

Few realists expected this president, when he took office, to unleash the fighting spirit and political cunning of a Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it has been sickening to see him cave so miserably to pressure from monster companies that continue to rob and exploit working people in America. I think my friends, the ones who insist that Obama is more than a DINO (Democrat In Name Only, pronounced like Dean Martin’s nickname), are walking around in a fog. But I still hope he transforms himself and proves me dead wrong.

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