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What If the BP Oil Well Had Still Been Gushing On Election Day?

By       Message Roger Shuler     Permalink
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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Several million words probably have been written or spoken about the results of Tuesday's midterm elections. My favorite piece, so far, comes from Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, who opines that the Republican tsunami was driven mainly by a sudden realization from America's white masses: "Dear God, we've got a black man in the White House!"

I suspect Robinson is awfully close to the truth, so I couldn't help but wonder, "Given that Barack Obama, indeed, is black, is there anything Democrats could have done differently that might have altered the outcome?"

Regular readers know I think Obama made a huge mistake with his "look forward, not backwards" approach to the apparent crimes of the George W. Bush administration. Be that as it may (as lawyers like to say), here is maybe the No. 1 political mistake Democrats made: They allowed the BP oil well to be capped before the election.

Would the election have been different if the BP well had still been spewing in the Gulf of Mexico when voters went to the polls on Tuesday? Given the somewhat anecdotal evidence we've seen in Alabama, I think the outcome would have been radically different. Heck, the Democrats might have even gained seats in both the House and Senate and picked up any number of governorships.

Why do I say this? Well, our Legal Schnauzer Philosophy Department has developed a new political theory. We call it the "White People Will Automatically Vote Republican Unless Something So Godawful Happens That It Shakes Them Out of Their Stupor And Causes Them To Think Democrats Aren't a Bunch Of Commies After All" Theory.

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Our theory is based on the notion that the white electorate has become like a computer with default settings. Their default setting for voting is set on "GOP"--unless something shakes them out of their comfort zone and causes them to say, "Dammit, now I've got to go into preferences and figure out to change the default setting so that I can possibly vote for that other party . . . what's it called again?"

We think the Gulf oil disaster might have been such an event--if BP and the government hadn't figured out how to cap it a few weeks back.

Consider what happened here in Alabama while BP crude was washing up on our pristine shores. We are one of the most grotesquely right-wing states in the country, but even here, people seemed to start thinking, "You know, maybe it's not such a good idea to elect Republicans who turn around and let oil companies do pretty much as they please in the Gulf of Mexico, with precious little oversight."

While the oil was spewing, two political events took place in Alabama that indicated people were fed up with corporatist candidates who seemed likely to cozy up to Big Oil. In the Democratic primary for governor, Ron Sparks knocked off corporate suck-up Artur Davis in a landslide. And in the Republican primary, Dr. Robert Bentley stunned Bradley Byrne, who had been the hand-picked successor to GOP governor Bob Riley and the favorite of moneyed interests across the state.

Bentley beat Byrne in a runoff on July 13. Two days later, BP announced that the well had been capped. We still don't have a full grasp on the environmental and economic harm that has been caused by the gusher. But it's now roughly 2 1/2 months since the well was capped. And based on Tuesday's election, it's as if voters forgot the disaster ever happened.

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BP once again is making profits , and the public no longer seems to care about the issues that caused the well to blow in the first place. There's no telling how close we came to having the Gulf of Mexico ruined beyond repair--and there is no question that lax regulation promoted by the Bush administration helped allow it to happen. But the well was capped, and in a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind," voters decided to jump on the GOP train once again.

The whole episode reminds us of the fundamental differences between Republican and Democrats. If Republicans had been in charge and seen a political advantage in allowing the BP gusher to continue, there is no way in hell the well would have been capped until after Nov. 2. An environmental disaster like we've never seen before? The ruination of an irreplaceable natural resource? Who cares? There is political hay to be made--and we're going to make it.

A Democrat, however, was in the White House. And like most Democrats, Barack Obama has a functioning conscience. And like many Democrats, Obama can be politically tone deaf. So what did he do? He did the right thing, dammit! He allowed the well to be plugged, and now we've got at least two years of Republican-fueled dysfunction to look forward to.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)

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