Barack Obama — June 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Cognitive Dissonance in the South re: the Gulf oil geyser


I spent the past three days in southern Alabama. I flew into Pensacola and as our plane approached the airport, you could see a broad line of reddish-orange oil hovering just off shore. One of my colleagues owns a vacation home on Orange Beach on the border of Alabama and Mississippi. Everywhere I went, in every restaurant, in every bar, at the break room at our customer’s plant, everyone was talking about the oil spill. All of them full of anger and resentment and a strong desire to blame whoever they could.

First and foremost they blamed BP. That’s natural and that’s appropriate. But many of them blamed Barack Obama as well. They were nearly gleeful at the reports that his approval ratings dealing with this catastrophe are lower than Bush’s dealing with Katrina.

Meanwhile, in the background, Congressmen and mayors from the Gulf coast states implored the president to revoke the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf.

The Cognitive Dissonance in the South regarding this disaster was surreal to me as a northerner.

Flying in was tough. I knew that the oil had reached Florida but seeing it wrenched my heart. Because you don’t just see the oil. You see the marvelous barrier islands. You see the estuaries and the marshes and the beaches.

And you know they will all soon be despoiled. Irreparably.

At every lunch stop, at every evening beer with coworkers, at every breakfast at the hotel, I overheard talk of the oil geyser. People flip off BP stations as they drive by. They risk running out of gas to find another station to purchase their gas.

But as I drove the 2 hours to my destination in Alabama, I listened to gulf Congressman testifying at a hearing, imploring the president to rescind his moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. One compared it to a patient with internal bleeding at an emergency room being killed rather than treated. Every single one of them started their comments with remarks about how tragic this is. Then they moved on to economic consequences. “Think of the jobs lost!” they cried. “Think of the oil workers’ families!” they said.

There appeared to be no recognition whatsoever of the impact of this oil spill on the everyone else. The fisherpeople. The shrimpers. The booze cruise operators. All of the tourism-related businesses along the coast.

What they were most concerned about was the economic impact on the oil companies and their employees. Worth the risk of all the others’ livelihoods in their minds, apparently, so long as the oilmen and women can keep drilling to make billions in profits each quarter for the companies who own the wells.

Tuesday night, I had dinner with some of our customers and colleagues. Over their shoulders I could see the president giving his speech. But the sound was down and all I could hear was them talking about Barack Obama.

“Do you know which politician has received the most money from BP? Yup, Obama!”

“Obama’s ratings are lower than Bush’s during Katrina!”

“What do you expect from someone who probably wasn’t even born here? I’m not a ‘birther’ or anything but someday it’s all going to come out that he’s not American”.

The people I heard talking in the South are suffering from a severe case of Cognitive Dissonance, the ability to hold two opposing thoughts simultaneously in their brains. On one hand they are pissed as hell at BP and what they’ve done. On the other, they are blaming it as much on the Obama administration as BP despite the fact that the process leading up to this catastrophe happened during Bush’s watch. Bush isn’t culpable in their minds. Obama is.

It was a stark slap in the face to this Northerner.

I’m so glad to be home.

I’m just sayin’…