Tavis Smiley: Just Because Gulf Residents Depend on Oil Drilling as Part of Their Economy 'Doesn't Make It Right'

Apparently, Tavis Smiley of PBS knows what's best for Gulf residents, even if it would mean widespread unemployment.

Smiley hosted a Wednesday night interview with Rep. Henry Waxman (D) on his show, where the liberal Californian admitted that while alternative energy sources need to be explored and developed, America still needs to drill for oil, albeit safely.

But Smiley wondered aloud how American can move beyond politics and transcend its oil-dependent energy policy. He thought Obama's Oval Office speech was one that "most people, left and right, seem not to like."

"How do you move beyond the politics to make that happen?" Smiley then asked Waxman, even though, as he himself claimed, most of the country was not enamored with Obama's words.

Smiley also brought up the Gulf residents' clamors to keep oil drilling alive there. "I say this respectfully, because I understand how their economy works down there," he said, before asking why Gulf residents are hesitant to "move beyond oil drilling."

"This oil's in Florida now, as you know, this oil's in Texas now, it's all over the place in the Gulf. And yet the people in that region don't want to stop oil drilling," the PBS host pointed out to allege hypocrisy on the part of Gulf residents who also attack BP.

"Well, they're dependent on oil as part of their economy," Waxman explained.

"But dependence doesn't make it right, though," Smiley preached from his Los Angeles soapbox.

"Well it makes it understandable," Waxman offered.

At the end of the discussion, Waxman slammed the Republicans for blaming Obama for the federal response to the Gulf disaster.

Smiley added in his two cents. "I think it's laughable, beyond laughable, that many persons on the right demonize government all day long until they want government to do what they want government to do."

The transcript of the segment, which aired on July 8 at 12:38 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: But we need to move away from oil. And that’s why I strongly support the idea of broader legislative solution that will have us use alternatives to oil, to reduce the carbon emissions from other sources, especially coal and some of the utilities, to hasten the development of automobiles that are either electric or hybrid, so that’s not strictly using oil. Those are the things we need to do, it’s not going to happen overnight. But we’re not getting started, because of a lot of opposition, primarily because of the oil companies.

TAVIS SMILEY: Respectfully, though, screw the oil companies. If this disaster with BP doesn't allow the American people to see this is what can happen, this is what happens, this is happening because of our dependence on oil, screw the oil companies. I don't want to hear that. I'm asking, respectfully, when it is and how it is that the American people and that our leaders in government circumvent the oil companies and say this is what we're going to do for the sake of the American people?

REP. WAXMAN: Well the President has been very clear. For the sake of the American people, our economy, our national security, to create more jobs, we need a comprehensive energy climate change bill that will move us away from these contributors of carbon emissions, and oil and coal are the major sources of these carbon emissions. You asked, though, the question directly – should we all feel blameworthy for what happened? And I don't quite accept that. We are dependent on this transportation source for our motor vehicles. That's – I can't blame people for vehicles that use oil. I blame government and leaders for not moving us away from that and developing a different strategy. Now that we have leadership from President Obama, it is so difficult. Now the House passed a bill. We're waiting for the Senate. And maybe they will get their act together and pass legislation. But if we don't do it, as years go by, things don't change overnight. It's going to take a period of transition. And we need to drill for oil. I think it's a mistake to say that there's something wrong with drilling for oil. We've got to drill for oil. But if we're going to have drilling for oil, we've got to make sure it's done safely to protect the environment as best we can from this drilling itself.

TAVIS SMILEY: How do you explain to the American people how it is that the folks in the Gulf – now I say this respectfully, because I understand how their economy works down there – but how do you, to your point now that you think we do need to drill for oil, just to do it safely, how do we explain to the American people who are watching this disaster in the Gulf who don't understand how something this devastating could be impacting – this oil's in Florida now, as you know, this oil's in Texas now, it's all over the place in the Gulf. And yet, the people in that region don't want to stop oil drilling. I mean, it's like on the one hand they're demonizing – I shouldn't say demonizing – they're going after BP, I want to underscore again, as they should. They're going after BP. But at the same time, I don't hear voices, a chorus of voices saying we've got to move beyond oil drilling.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, they're dependent on oil as part of their economy.

TAVIS SMILEY: But dependence doesn't make it right, though.

REP. WAXMAN: Well, it makes it understandable.

SMILEY: Okay.

REP. WAXMAN: And they're not against oil drilling. And I'm not against oil drilling per se, although I think the moratorium makes a lot of sense until we can make sure it's done safely. We have oil drilled, and we're not going to stop drilling for oil, this is an important resource that we need to use, and we need to move away from. But we need it now. And I'd rather develop more American oil, than have to be importing more, although we're never going to be self-sufficient. The statistics, which I think are pretty dramatic – we have three percent of the world's oil resources in this country, and we consume 25 percent. Well there's no way in the world we're going to be independent of importing oil, unless we get away from using oil.

SMILEY: So how do you move beyond then, finally here, how do you move beyond the politics, to your point earlier, President Obama is trying to do that, in the speech that most people, left and right, seem not to like, at least in that speech – he tried to raise the issue of different energy sources, a different direction for our energy program in this country, and the minute that he did that, as you well know being on the Hill, he got accused of playing politics and trying to insert a political agenda into a controversy. So how do you move beyond the politics to make that happen?

REP. WAXMAN: I just want to point out something that is obvious, I think that most people that have – there's nothing he can do that he's not criticized about. You would think in a disaster like this, the country would be united and try to help do whatever we need to do to clean it up and to respond to it. Rather than BP, blame BP, we have Republicans say "Oh, it's Obama's fault!" Well what did he do? Now the government has a lot of responsibility, because we have a government agency that's supposed to supervise the safety of this drilling. And that agency has failed miserably, and in fact there were even scandals associated with the Mineral Resources Development Agency. And the President is trying to change that, and restructure it, and make sure he's got better people in there. But they blame President – even the governor of Louisiana who is a very active Republican, congressman, very active Republican, says "Oh, they've got to build a certain, certain rock pile of some sort," and the scientists tell us that's a mistake. But he's saying the federal government is not doing what we need to do. Well, I think so much of that has become politicized, and it shouldn't be. Everything is not political, and it's – everything's not partisan, but if you listen to the complaints, every time President Obama makes a move, somebody wants to blame something on him, even though he had nothing to do with it.

SMILEY: Well, we do agree on that point. I think it's laughable, beyond laughable, that many persons on the right demonize government all day long until they want government to do what they want government to do. But I digress.
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014