Commentary: Gulf oil spill leave no traces on elections

Workers skim a large patch of weathered oil by hand in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Workers skim a large patch of weathered oil by hand in Gulfport, Mississippi. Amanda McCoy/Biloxi Sun-Herald/MCT

Not only did that giant horrible plume of oil seem to disperse in the Gulf, it disappeared from politics.

Six months ago, the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico was seen as both the worst natural disaster in American history and the most vexing problem in American politics. ``This is what I wake up to in the morning, and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about,'' President Obama said.

The ruinous effect of 4.1 million barrels of red, gooey crude washing onto the Gulf Coast would surely affect the November elections.

Thanks to the spill, Gov. Charlie Crist, commanding a flotilla of plastic booms off the Florida Panhandle beaches, was able to resurrect his candidacy in the U.S. Senate race. In early summer, Crist was transformed into the environmental governor with lots of media attention and a lead in the polls.

But in the final weeks of the campaign, the spill -- along with Crist's allure -- has receded from public consciousness.

The gusher was capped three months ago. Worried talk of an environmental catastrophe was soon drowned out by an angry harangue from oil-state politicians demanding an end to the moratorium on new deep-water wells. Elected officials formerly concerned for shrimpers, fishermen and the Gulf Coast tourist industry talked incessantly about the loss of drilling jobs.

On Oct. 12, the Obama administration lifted the moratorium. And the worst natural disaster in American history became no more relevant to American voters than those vaguely remembered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has stubbornly persevered with his $360 million chain of earthen berms 40 miles offshore, despite protests from environmentalists and marine scientists.

So far, his sand barriers have intercepted only about 1,000 barrels of oil. That works out to $36,000 a barrel -- not such a cost effective way to protect the coast. But Jindal's berm project, also known as Jindal's folly, was a political conception, a monument to himself when it was proposed in May, a time political leaders were still obsessed with the Gulf disaster.

Lately, not only has the oil spill faded from the public narrative, so have other environmental concerns -- except as the stuff of derision from tea party insurgents.

The new right-wing activists, poised to chase Democrats out of their majority positions in Congress, regard talk of global warming as biblical heresy. As former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, reincarnated as a tea party intellectual, put it, ``The Lord God Almighty made the heavens and the Earth to his satisfaction. It is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that we are going to destroy God's creation.''

A New York Times/CBS poll this month found only 14 percent of the tea partiers called global warming an imminent problem. More than half doubted that global warming posed a future problem.

After Nov. 2, the new political establishment will ignore all those secular worries about melting polar caps, massive wildfires, dust storms, ocean dead zones and a rising sea that could inundate much of the Florida peninsula.

So much for worries about preventing future deep-water spills. So much for carbon-cutting measures that might slow global warming. If climate scientists are right about rising sea levels, and the tea partiers are wrong, so much for Florida.

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