God's hand will guide us through the storm of the Gulf gusher to a better day, said President Obama in his first Oval Office address to the nation.
President Barack Obama and other White House officials meet with BP executives on June 16 to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Pete Souza, White House)
At the close of his speech, Obama turned to religion with a story about clergy who say prayers for protection and success for fishermen at the beginning of the "shrimping" season in a ritual known as "The Blessing of the Fleet."
"The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago – at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced," said Obama.
"And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, 'The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always,' a blessing that's granted 'even in the midst of the storm,'" cited the president.
Noting that the oil spill will not be the nation's last crisis, Obama said, "What sees us through – what has always seen us through – is our strength, our resilience and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it."
He added, "Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day."
In a way, the storm was a metaphor for both the squall of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico damaging everything in its path and the flare-up yet to come from those who are addicted to the pleasures of oil and oil profits. Moving the nation away from its dependence on dirty oil to clean, renewable energy will require as much courage and "unyielding faith" as cleaning up and restoring the Gulf Coast.
Rather than blame every conceivable source for the Gulf gusher – God, nature itself, cosmic randomness, environmentalists – Obama took aim at BP, the forces of anti-government regulation and the national inability to create a society secure from its oil addiction.
Obama distanced himself from those who claim the BP spill was an act of God.
"And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it's not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days," he said. "The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years."
The president rightly placed the cause of the gusher at the door of BP.
"We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused," he promised, noting the "company's recklessness."
Without naming the Bush administration, the president spoke of the anti-regulation fever, specifically at the Minerals Management Service agency that is charged with regulating drilling.
"Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility – a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves," said Obama. "At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations."
The president said, "So one of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling."
Obama's threefold critique then turned to America's oil addiction.
"For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked – not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor," he said.
What is needed is "a national mission" to move quickly toward clean energy in order to control the nation's destiny, said the president.
Referring to the House of Representatives' 2009 bill on clean energy and climate change, Obama acknowledged the costs of transitioning from energy dependence to energy independence.
"[T]here are costs associated with this transition. And there are some who believe that we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy – because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater," he said.
President Obama has accurately diagnosed the root causes of the Gulf gusher and has laid out in broad strokes a constructive plan forward. He acknowledged the power of faith in the storm.
What happens next depends in no small measure on the power of faith leaders to speak in moral terms about the causes of the crisis – the greed that drove BP to shortcuts, the idolatrous trust in an unregulated market and the disregard for the biblical mandate to guard Planet Earth.
If faith leaders will speak repeatedly about greed, idolatry and disobedience to the divine mandate to care for the garden, then perhaps our nation can summon the moral courage to create a better day. If faith leaders remain silent, then faith will become less potent and the profiteers will become more powerful.
As Moses set before the people a choice, so, too, do we have a choice on the energy and security front. We can stay on the same unworkable course, awaiting yet another environmental disaster and staying locked in military conflict in oil-producing nations. Or we can cut a new path toward energy security and environmental protection.
And say, ye?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.