Having been a history major at Dartmouth College and having been a devoted student of history for my entire adult life, I am already looking forward to reading the historical accounts of the Obama Administration a decade or two after President Obama has completed his second term in office. We are all too close to the forest of discourse and current events and debate and vitriol to see the factual trees. But I wonder what some historian or biographer will make of the facts as they will be known in the cool dawn of reflection after the heated night of unlimited contact partisanship.
I wonder, for example, what will be made of the institutional and political response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Will historians think that as a nation we were simply mad to let oil companies with documented irresponsible histories drill for oil in such hazardous conditions that literally no one knew of an emergency plan that would work in the event of a disaster? Will anyone actually believe that an entire cadre of oil companies would have virtually identical disaster plans for the Gulf of Mexico that called for the protection of walruses – animals not seen in that region for millions of years? Is it possible that this same cadre filed disaster plans with the same deceased expert? And is it believable that without the Deepwater Horizon debacle we still wouldn’t know about this documentary shell game. And, by the way, has anybody asked where else are there sham plans with shadow disaster plans vouchsafed by long dead petroleum wizards?
There is Pulitzer Prize in history waiting in the year 2026 for the historian who can accurately and usefully explain how the Republican Party was able to maintain any credibility in the United States after the BP disaster. After all, it was the Republican Party that championed the “drill baby drill” mantra and, after all, the millions of gallons of crude oil that have befouled the Southeastern quadrant of the United States, killing wildlife and eviscerating the economy of the region, are a direct result of “drill baby drill” petroleum collection strategies.
I also imagine that this 2026 Pulitzer honoree (he/she is probably in graduate school right now) will, as an extra added attraction, explain the continued and presumed legitimacy of the Republican Party, the party of “drill baby drill”, which has also managed to harbor Congressman Barton from Texas who actually apologized to the CEO of BP because President Obama pressured BP into funding an account that will only address a portion of the damage and destruction caused by this rogue company.
For accuracy’s sake it should be noted that Congressman Barton did apologize for his apology. For accuracy’s sake it should be noted that the Republican Study Group of the House of Representatives referred to President Obama holding BP accountable as a “shakedown “ and no apology has been issued by this august body. And, as an historical footnote, it should be noted that the leadership of the Republican Party did not believe that their distinguished colleague from the Lone Star State needed to apologize to the President of the United States for in essence calling him an extortionist. But, of course, there was never even an apology, contrived or otherwise, when another Republican, Congressman Joe Wilson, the distinguished gentleman from South Carolina, called the President of the United States a liar during his address to a joint session of Congress.
This future historian will also have to dedicate a special chapter to Michael Steele. The putative author of the “drill baby drill” mantra has made so many errors and misstatements that there may be no actual starting point in attempting to describe his minimal importance in the arena of political discourse. Nevertheless, a retrospective might find it interesting that the Chairman of the Republican National Committee criticized the CEO of BP for going to an English yacht race during the petroleum cataclysm occasioned by his imputed mismanagement.
Given the long-running Harlequin romance between the RNC and the oil industry over the years, Mr. Steele’s criticism of BP seems hollow and contrived. But not content with simply turning irony into an art form, Michael Steele called upon President Obama to stop playing golf, or going to baseball games or hosting artists in the White House until the BP oil gusher is stopped. I can only imagine that in earlier Steele drafts Mr. Obama was called upon to fast, take a vow of abstinence from alcohol and sex and to wear sackcloth under his presidential suits.
These historical reports will be hard to believe in the second quarter of the twenty-first century. They will hardly be credible as even casual students of history would know that in 2010 the economy of the United States was barely stable, two wars were being fought with inconclusive results at best and certainly with not certitude of success, however that might be defined. In 2010 the divisions between Americans seemed to be deeper and more profound than ever before and the BP disaster was simply illustrative of the environmental tightrope that this country is walking at this very moment as its addiction to fossil fuels continues unabated and efforts to address this very real challenge are derided as part of a “political agenda”.
Perhaps it is possible to go on Amazon or to go to Barnes & Noble to reserve a copy of this historical account. It is sure to be a best seller.
Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.