In a move that will probably dog him for months to come, the President drew parallels between the BP oil disaster and 9/11. In an interview with Politico, Obama said “In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.”
Predictably, the right wing punditocracy blew a gasket, with Fox and Friends leading the charge to further vilify the president. To do that however, as Media Matters highlights, one has to leave out the context behind the quote, along with leaving out similar comments from fellow conservative cheerleaders. Media Matters points out Shepard Smith said the spill could be the biggest story of this generation, “bigger than the attacks on the World Trade Center, bigger than most anything.”Relatives of those who died at ground zero also weighed in on the matter. A New York fire department deputy chief called the president “off base,” but the mother of another victim of the terrorist attacks said Obama may have made an apt comparison.
While the vitriol over the president’s analogy shouldn’t surprise anyone, it is troubling. The most hard core right wing conservatives, along with many people on the left, love to say that 9/11 “changed everything.” Though the increasingly polar opposite ends of the spectrum will disagree on what exactly changed, if the national conversation is to be so flippant about words, one could say both the right and left agree with each other on the matter. The response to the tragedy of September 11th brought about sweeping legislation which forever altered our civil rights, the longest running military action in American history and the justification for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Subsequent to the attacks, we also created the Department of Homeland Security and adopted a new foreign policy (The Bush Doctrine).
We know that 9/11 was a horrific tragedy and the aftermath will last for untold years to come. Regardless of what the changes were, the event already made lasting changes on many American policies, both foreign and domestic. While the causes and immediate effects of BP’s oil spill are vastly different from that of 9/11, the disaster could be another turning point in American history. The effects of the oil industry on Americans – lax regulation, the lack of disaster preparedness, the wanton disregard for the environment – are all things that will change the national conversation for years to come. Drawing a parallel between the two isn’t disrespecting those that have died or promoting some kind of secret agenda. It’s simply making an analogy between to two events that have and will irrevocably change the lives of hundreds of millions of people.