Exploit This Tragedy

Before the tar balls had a chance to touch down on the white sands of the Gulf Coast ““ the message from the oil-soaked Republican Party was clear: “Don’t exploit the disaster”¦if you’re a Democrat.” But if you’re a member of the GOP, feel free to exploit this endless spill for political gain. Use it as a battering ram against the president. “Obama’s Katrina.” “Obama’s un-American for criticizing BP.” “The moratorium is worse than the spill.” “Obama isn’t doing enough.” “Government is bad ““ where’s the National Guard?” So on and so forth.

Cartoon by Nate Beeler - Washington Examiner (click to reprint)

Cartoon by Nate Beeler - Washington Examiner (click to reprint)

But don’t try to pass an energy policy in the wake of the biggest environmental catastrophe this country has ever witnessed. That’s exploitative. Crude.

The “don’t exploit this tragedy” knee-jerk catch-all phrase is absolutely meaningless. In American politics, we rule by crisis. There is no political will to act unless something is burning, melting or spewing. We don’t plan for the future – we brace for it. Our policies are all emergency-based. Our country is like someone who won’t pay their bills until they get a shut off notice.

“We can wait no longer! Now is the time!”

The Republican’s hands-off philosophy back when they held all three branches of government enabled a horde of deregulated industries with imaginary blow-out preventers to burst: the banks, Wall Street, the auto industry, the housing market etc. We’ve had to attend to these disasters, one after another. Tipping point after tipping point. Cliff after cliff.

The one issue Obama did address when it was only slightly gangrene was health care. Yet this is also the issue he gets criticized for doing instead of mopping up the Armageddon-of-the-month.

Appointed Arizona Governor Jan Brewer enjoys exploiting a tragedy to defend her disastrous-to-civil-rights immigration law. Have any Republicans admonished her for it? Nope. It’s a showdown – and Obama is IGNORING the crisis! Even though most statistics admit both incidents of violence and illegal immigration at the border had already declined. Even though “securing the border” is as ambiguous and unobtainable as “wiping out terror.” Even though according to the Arizona Republic, the Customs and Border Protection federal law enforcement agency has an annual budget of $17 billion, doubling what was spent in 2003.

“I have repeatedly sent letters to the administration and to the president of the United States with absolutely no response,” Brewer said on Fox News. It’s like calling your elderly relative just to have them bark at you that you never call. I can’t imagine why Brewer would get ignored.

But if a perennial progressive issue turns into a crisis ““ tragedy is suddenly sacred. A mass shooting at a school? Don’t exploit this tragedy to talk about gun control. Miners killed due to hazardous conditions? Don’t exploit this tragedy to empower unions. Our Gulf Coast lost for a generation because of drilling shortcuts? Don’t exploit this dead gulf or you’ll kill jobs.

The point is: Obama should exploit this tragedy in the Gulf. Not “exploiting the tragedy” is saying the status quo is perfect. Don’t do anything. Just wait out the clock.

Yes, just like the “actions” of the 109th Congress – the last one controlled by Republican majorities in both houses. When the Republicans set the agenda, they met a whopping 242 days in two years, which was 12 fewer days than the 80th Congress, the first to be dubbed a Do-Nothing Congress by President Harry Truman. The 109th had an average of eight months off a year – because nothing celebrates government ineffectiveness more than a gig in congress being a nearly no-show job.

“But if we seize this moment we can rebuild our economy on a new foundation,” said President Obama on his Organizing for America site this week.

Please, exploit this crisis. Make it the reason a spill like this won’t happen again. “The only real solution is to take American ingenuity to get energy in different forms,” Microsoft’s Bill Gates said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Gates proposes spending one percent ($11 billion annually) of what we spend on energy for research and development.

Finally an idea, not just a denial with a chant. “Drill, baby, drill.”

Yes. Exploit this crisis and exploit the clean renewable natural resources inspired by Bill Gates ““ the country’s nerds.

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Tough Sell

There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that BP could say in an ad that would change my thinking about the oil business or prompt me to buy BP gas. So it’s hard to fathom why BP continues to run so many expensive ads in the midst of the unchecked disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But then, I’m probably as naive about advertising as I am about the oil business. I can’t honestly recall ever doing anything at the suggestion of an ad – except, perhaps, arrive at a movie theater at the proper time. That’s a powerful statement considering more than $100 billion is spent on advertising in the U.S. each year.

Not to say all ads are bad. Some, like the radio spots that feature the humorist Tom Bodett have put a smile on my face for years. I love the sappy music, and I enjoy hearing Mr. Bodett say, “We’ll leave the light on for ya.” But I’ve never stayed at Motel 6; never even considered it. All the ads have reminded me is that if I ever run into Tom Bodett in a bar I’d like to buy him a drink.

I love the fact that Dos Equis beer has used its ad dollars to identify the world’s most interesting person, albeit a fictitious fellow, and I applaud the fact that he’s honest enough to say, “I don’t always drink beer.” It’s particularly impressive that these entertaining ads survive despite press releases like the one from Dos Equis Brand Director Paul Smailes that includes in a single paragraph: “strategic understanding of the brand platform,” and “strong digital and social media experience.”

Ironically, Mr. Smailes uses the very sort of obnoxious PR thinking that seems absent in his commercials, but must be exactly what BP’s ad team is talking about. Regardless, I’ve never tried the beer.

Nor do I buy much Corona, although its ads set some kind of record for televised tranquility. The current batch feature folks on a beautiful beach, never saying a word. In one spot a guy is so blissed out he throws his cell phone into the ocean.

A woman I work with said she really enjoys a Huggies commercial for designer diapers with the tag line: “You’ll never look so good pooping in your pants.” Would this influence a diaper purchase? No.

My wife expressed fondness for a commercial touting the virtues of cotton, in which the actress Zooey Deschanel wears quirky, slightly retro cotton ensembles. Ever buy anything made of cotton as a result of the ad? Nope.

What’s not to enjoy about the Mac vs. PC commercials? My hunch, however, is you’re either a PC person or a Mac type, and casting two lovable guys in the roles of digital devices isn’t going to change that.

So, what hope does BP possibly have in swaying public opinion by boasting about its attempt to deal with disaster in the Gulf of Mexico by running ads that foolishly state, “our efforts will not come at any cost to taxpayers”? And, the insulting pledge to honor all “legitimate” claims?

Adweek magazine was kind in a headline that reported, “BP’s ‘Apology’ Ad Not a Complete Disaster.” The magazine notes that although BP’s TV commercial rated “average” with viewers, “many consumers expressed their anger and unhappiness with BP.” No kidding.

BP shot its commercial on a pristine beach with no tar balls or oil-coated pelicans in sight. President Obama expressed disappointment that BP would squander time and money on rehabilitating its image at a time when the last thing needed is public relations.

In 1989 when the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, the company spent $1.8 million on a newspaper ad that offered regret, but no acceptance of responsibility. “The accident has been receiving our full attention and will continue to do so,” said the ad about the largest spill in U.S. history.

In its current print ad, BP pledges, “We will get this done. We will make this right.” One fears that they’re talking about developing a successful commercial, not cleaning up the oil. I’m still not buying.


Peter Funt writes about newspapers at: www.FuntonFronts.com.

Peter Funt may be reached at: www.CandidCamera.com.

©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected].

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He’s also the long-time host of “Candid Camera.” A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.

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