When disaster strikes, Americans are famous for coming together — and looking for someone to blame.

We should expect no less than in our response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is quickly becoming the worst industrial accident in our history. The need for a villain is so big, some of us are going right to the top and blaming President Barack Obama.

If Obama had only gone to the Gulf Coast sooner, they argue, if he had only gone to the funeral of the oil rig workers, if he had only grabbed a bullhorn, like George W. Bush did in the ruins of 911, and promised revenge on our enemies, things would have been different.

But if there had been a bullhorn moment, we might not have liked what we heard, because this catastrophe has less to do with Obama and more to do with all of us and our petroleum-fueled lifestyle than it does with the man who has been in charge of the nation for the last year and a half. The enemy here is us.

Obama was a freshman senator from Illinois when Bush declared that we had to end our addiction to oil in his 2006 State of the Union speech.

He was a college freshman in California, when the Mexican government-run oil company Pemex finally capped the Ixtoc spill, , the worst ever in North America ,which pumped 50,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico for nine months, ending in March of 1980.

Obama was just a middle school student in Hawaii when the 1974 Oil Embargo should have delivered the message that our dependence on fossil fuels not only threatens our environment, but puts us in a vulnerable position in the world, and forces us to pump billions of dollars a year overseas to people who don’t like us.

Here’s what he could have said through the bullhorn: We all should have seen this coming.

Every attempt to create a rational energy policy in this country has been met with intense political opposition from oil and coal producers and their allies in the government.

Jimmy Carter was laughed out of Washington, in part for his suggestion that we should conserve energy by turning down our thermostats and wearing sweaters in the winter. This was seen as too pessimistic for real Americans, and we kept the pedal down on the subdivision and SUV lifestyle right through the next 30 years. Is that Obama’s fault?

Thanks to non-stop sprawl development, we have a road system that we can’t afford to maintain, a climate catastrophe that is far worse than the oil spill and a greater dependence on foreign oil than ever.

If we choose to step-up domestic production, we can look forward to more events like the Deepwater Horizon. Obama did not issue permits for the rig or appoint the regulators who looked the other way when the company had no idea of what to do if there was a blowout.

There are not too many points on which I agree with Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican Senate candidate who has been asked by his friends to stop talking to the press, but he was partly right about this catastrophe.

We shouldn’t be shocked when something like this occurs. “Accidents happen,” Paul said. He’s right, sort of.

When we repeatedly ignore the warning signs and dismiss alternatives, further committing ourselves to a fuel that gets harder and harder to come by, this is the kind of result we should expect. These are not unforeseeable events: They have happened before and they will happen again unless some factor in the equation is altered.

It was certainly a risk British Petroleum was willing to take. It apparently was worth a try for the Mineral Management Service, which oversaw the whole operation.

Too bad no one asked the Gulf Coast fishermen, shrimpers or oyster harvesters if this rig in this place was a good risk.

Ask them and the beach-front motel operators if they are still among those who think commuter rail and transit-oriented development are too-expensive pipe dreams. Ask them if they think energy from renewable resources is just a boondoggle. Ask them if maybe conservation might not be so “pessimistic” after all.

If you want to criticize Obama, fault him for failing to brand this disaster as the total failure of U.S. energy policy over the last generation — in which greedy oil companies bought influence and were aided and abetted by the American public, which has been seduced with an independent lifestyle into believing that it can go anywhere, at any time, not thinking about the real costs.

That is not the bullhorn message that Obama’s critics may want to hear, but is one that we ought to get.

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or [email protected]