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May 7th, 2010
06:30 AM ET

Avlon: Oil spill disaster turned ugly partisan football

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN independent analyst John Avlon says partisan politics won't help the people who live along the Gulf or the local fishing industry which is being impacted by the oil spill."]

By John Avlon, Special to CNN

The wingnut wars have escalated to such an extent that we can’t even deal with a natural disaster without the partisan attacks and counter-offensives coming full force. That’s why this week we’re looking at the shameful attempts to turn the devastating oil spill in the Gulf into an ugly partisan football.

We’ll start with El Rushbo – Senor Limbaugh was inevitably among the first to wade into the muck, questioning whether the oil spill was caused by environmental saboteurs and asking his audience whether it was timed to impact the energy bill:

“I want to get back to the timing of the blowing up, the explosion out there in the Gulf of Mexico of this oil rig. Since they're sending SWAT teams down there now this changes the whole perspective of this. Now, lest we forget, ladies and gentlemen, the carbon tax bill, cap and trade that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day. I remember that. And then it was postponed for a couple of days later after Earth Day, and then of course immigration has now moved in front of it…But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment. So, since they're sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they're sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing here.”

As conspiracy theories go, this one is pretty ornate – environmental terrorism backed by a well-timed attempt to derail legislation. I particularly love how the Obama administration’s centrist policy outreach to increase off shore oil exploration and nuclear power plants – a core piece of the GOP’s proposals – is summarily dismissed by Limbaugh, saying Obama “supposedly” backed the proposals. Guess you can’t give fair credit when it means supporting the policies of the president from a different party.

But we’ve come to expect these hyper-partisan bloviations from Rush – they are part of this expert political entertainers shtick – his audience doesn’t expect responsibility, they tune in for the outrage.

But current and former political officials should be held to a higher standard and that’s why the resurfacing of Bush’s Katrina-era FEMA director Michael Brown was particularly ugly and pathetic. The man who will be forever known as “Heckuva Job, Brownie” should understand better than anyone that disasters occur beyond partisan politics, but there he was on television, endorsing the conspiracy:

"This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, 'I'm gonna shut it down because it's too dangerous,'" Brown told Fox's Neil Cavuto. "This president has never supported Big Oil, he's never supported offshore drilling, and now he has an excuse to shut it back down."

Seriously? "This is exactly what they want"? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. Brown should slink back into well-deserved retirement from the national stage.

But over-the-top attempts to score political points off the disaster aren’t just limited to the administration’s opposition. BP was responsible for the rig and it should pay for the cleanup. But reaching new heights of anti-corporate rhetoric was Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who assured Americans that, "Our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of BP."

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"Boot on the neck" – Really? By reflexively reaching for a militaristic metaphor, Salazar reinforced the worst stereotypes of anti-business, big-government instincts from the left side of the aisle. This tough guy talk quickly became an instant classic tailor-made for the opposition, sure to be repeated at a hundred election-year protest rallies. It will be embraced as shorthand for the arrogance of power and it succeeded in somehow doing the impossible: making BP seem like a victim in the ensuing litigation.

We’ve got a problem when Americans can’t unite around a constructive response to a national disaster like this massive oil spill in the Gulf. Gutterball gamesmanship doesn’t do anything to help the people who live along the Gulf or the local fishing industry which is likely to face more economic pain. It’s yet another reminder of an old bit of forgotten wisdom: partisan politics ought to stop at the water’s edge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

Filed under: Opinion • Politics • Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Intelligence


    Alex Jones? Really? It's a real positive sign when you see people flocking to real winners like Alex Jones. Alex Jones is such a winner that he actually graduated from High School and "attended" community college for a while. Great person to seek advice from, he's obviously a really bright person and knows what he's talking about. Trying having your own intelligent thoughts once in a while, I'm sure it would be a very enlightening experience for many of you.

    May 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm |

    VM Sguy...the GOP attacked first with their nutjob claim that this was sabotage by the left and environmentalists. COME ON. Get off the crack.

    May 10, 2010 at 7:16 am |

    Well put John...and totally right. It used to be the crazies that came up with conspiracy theories like this. Seems they are taking over the conservative talk shows now to send their theories out. How Rush Balloonbaugh can turn this industrial accident into a Liberal conspiracy is just laughably. What a moron. But it gets him listeners and increases his profits. It reminds me of the "War of the Worlds" broadcast back in 1930...but it just never ends. Day after day of conservative lies and spin. The sad part is so many people seem to be getting sucked in to BalloonBoy's rhetoric and propaganda. Most cult members do believe without thinking...just puppets for their masters.

    May 10, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  4. ronvan

    WOW, I sure must have missed something? As I am retired and winding up being a TV junkie, and watching several news channels, I do not recall anyone mentioning SWAT being called in for this oil spill.
    As far as Rush & Beck, I would not trust anything they comment on. The more outrageous they can make it the more viewers they get and the more money in their pockets, and that is their ONLY GOAL! It is truly sad, and disgusting that so many people actually think these guys are interested in anything other than their ratings!

    May 9, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  5. slider

    John...seems like all of the lack of support you are getting on this one might just point to you being the wingnut this time. Do you always consult the DNC before you make your picks?

    May 9, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  6. Beth Jetton

    Now that I listen to the Alex Jones News Network, when I hear CNN talking heads speaking . . I am able to see the hypocricy. The wingnuts are any persons who are puppets for the Global Elite. Go ahead with your smugness, CNN talking heads. I can see right through. Wingnuts=CNN.

    May 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  7. Smith in Oregon

    I imagine family's with homes along the once pristine Gulf Coastal region where the home prices will drop to mere pennys of what they once were worth, will be rightly upset. Just breathing in the horrible pungent smell of creosote would be enough to drive away most residents across that entire multi-state region for years to come.

    It appears the long shot of the never tried before deep sea crude Oil collection box failed. Deep sea crystals called hydride's apparently formed which plugged the exit and Ocean crews have swung the useless at this time collection box some 600 feet to the side of the erupting spill.

    Expanding on a very bad situation in the Gulf of Mexico is the pre-existing Dead Zone which extends for THOUSANDS of miles where no sea life exists and is thought to directly result from the run-off from pesticides and fertilizer chemicals migrating down the Mississippi Delta region out into the Gulf of Mexico.

    This enormous heavy crude Oil spill is entirely likely to join and greatly expand the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently the Dead Zone is one of the largest of its kind in the entire world.

    May 8, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  8. chuck

    Hey, folks, John Avlon's summation and main point is in the last paragraph. That's really what his article was meant to say. Partisan politics is more and more a deal killer when it comes to doing good in society or fixing something that is catastrophically wrong. Seems to me that the pressure is enormous (and wrongly so) to sort out the accusations instead of doing something about the current disaster (containing it and cleaning it up)- instead of finding out what really happened (and then taking action once we have the facts). Unfortunately, even the fact-finding process is being politicized. Maybe it will turn out that the POLICY of drilling offshore isn't what's wrong at all; Maybe it's the lack of or disregard of the regulations that drilling operators are bound by law to obey. People who are in favor of SMALLER government, are you listening?

    May 7, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  9. Joan Fox

    I figured out why the right wing is to irresponsible about the environment! The have an extra planet somewhere!....they just havent told us where it is yet. Its is hard to understand how preserving our beautiful country for future generations, and preserving the environment which produces our food and water and air is ridiculed by a weird segment of the population. They are the definition of crazy, and they have loud voices, and they have managed to keep a certain segment of the population dumb enough to believe them.

    May 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  10. jechris

    Ken Salazar a leftist? CNN provides proof there is no left left in America.

    May 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  11. CRS

    White House meant "SWOT" teams, for "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats" analysis. Not SWAT as in guys with guns.

    WH did a lousy job with this message, Dept. of Interior doesn't have any SWAT teams! However, they do SWOT analysis after coal mine disasters, big spills etc.

    May 7, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  12. padman

    You don't hold a candle to Rush. Stop this stupid wingnut

    May 7, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  13. jmz

    you need to add LOS Suns to the list. As well as other illegal immigrant suppporters.

    Karen/Phoenix- You may want to take a look at the illegal immigrant supporters and seiu members. Does the hammer and sicle look familiar? Does the fact that multiple socialist, marxist and communist groups are memebers, and are also in Obamas cabinate. Perhaps Beck isnt so 'nuts' after all. The question you need to ask yourself is how can 'intelligent' people NOT watch FOX!

    May 7, 2010 at 8:09 am |
  14. Jeremy D from MI

    I guess the moderators don't let more than 100 posts in one topic? Some have spilled into here.

    Even though Rush is pretty much an extremist – he's an entertainer. Unfortunately, 30% of people in general are morons and will believe what they favorite celebrities say without considering they might not be checking the facts. This swings both ways. Bill Maher is just as bad as Rush, if not worse. I'm sure if someone picked over his comments with an open mind – it would be obvious.

    I do find it a bit suspicious that a SWAT team was used to check out the spill. Seems off, but I'm not ready to believe any kind of conspiracy just yet. Although one could argue it would benefit the far left of the spectrum to stop the drilling before it starts. But I don't think it's worth discussing without any shred of proof.

    Interesting Article John. I am a right-leaning moderate and find your perspective on politics to be more credible.

    May 7, 2010 at 8:03 am |
  15. Karen-Phoenix

    John should put all of FOX at the top of WINGNUTS!! I've even tried to watch Beck–the man is NUTS! How can educated people even watch FOX?? AND when did they add "Brownie" to their vast aray of so called intelligent reporters?? What has happened to America when people like Beck and Limbaugh get paid sooo much money and our teachers and service men are underpaid??? Maybe Beck and Limbaugh should loose their citizenship for "language unbecoming an American"??? Start taking away citizenship and it is a slippery sloop??? On the other hand maybe we could just "deport" Beck and Limbaugh!!!!

    May 7, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  16. VMSguy

    As in all Obama administration propoganda, they pretend to offer both sides while attacking anyone from the right. This report put comments by Rush Limbaugh and former Bush administration official Michael Brown in a bad light, classic Obama tactic. Then they present some lame comment by Ken Salazar and then the Iranian President??!!?? Pray tell, what does the Iranian President have to do with the topic?

    No one expects you to be fair and balanced but to be an outright propoanda tool of the Obama administration is way over the top. Do any of you have any semblance of journalistice ethics or honor?

    May 7, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  17. Hope

    treason, isn't that already a law? doesn't it apply?

    May 7, 2010 at 7:03 am |
  18. Jim

    The last time I checked, there was only one way to change the Constitution and that is by admendment. Good ole Joe and those who have joined him in this hair-brained scheme are attempting an end-run around the constitution. I never thought I would agree with the minority leader, but I do. For those who would throw the Constitution out when they feel like it," I say shut it up."

    May 7, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  19. Paul Zellmer

    So, when the opponents to offshore drilling will point to the current oil spill as support for calling for Obama to reverse again his new policy to open up those reserves, are you going to jump on them for politicizing a natural disaster in the same way that you jumped on Brown? He didn't say that the opponents caused it–he just said that this is going to be one of the results of it. Anticipating and pointing out the sure politization of a non-political situation by others is now politization itself????

    May 7, 2010 at 6:56 am |
  20. Jake

    An oil rig exploding is NOT a natural disaster.

    Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you are on, we can all agree that there is nothing natural about building a giant structure in the middle of the ocean and drilling from it into the ocean floor to dig up oil. And there is nothing natural when this device blows up. A hurricane is a natural disaster. An earthquake, torrential rainstorm, snowstorm -- these are all natural disasters. A man made structure blowing up and spewing its contents into the ocean is not a natural disaster.

    Otherwise, your point about the wingnuts on both sides makes sense. Sort of.

    May 7, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  21. carolyn

    "Natural Disaster"? Exactly what is natural about an oil rig blowing up that results in an enormous oil spill?

    May 7, 2010 at 6:52 am |
  22. mike

    John Avlon you are a big "wingnut", Who would make me laugh if you weren't miss leading so many people.

    May 7, 2010 at 6:49 am |
  23. rachel

    for am fix: if you are a naturalized citizen and you commit an act of terrorism – your rights should be stripped and you should be incarcerated indefinately!!! US playing nice guy too often- The US is not serious about terrorism. The US is selling itself for oil- which is the route of all of our problems.

    May 7, 2010 at 6:47 am |