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August 19, 2011
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Home » When the Angel of Death comes knocking we need Moses, not Pharaoh

A murky fog creeps along, choking the life out of the next generation and the most powerful nation on Earth stands powerless to stop it.  This image could equally come from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico or out of the Charlton Heston classic, The Ten Commandments.  The Mississippi is our Nile.  The secret to our inner strength and resiliency.  Egypt became the breadbasket to the world from the Nile's waters and the waters of the Mississippi form the very jugular that nourishes our heartland, feeding America and the world.  That creepy brown fog, once a bad Hollywood special effect, is now a very real Angel of Death.

At least one-third of the nation's marine food supply comes from the Gulf.  Even more relies on the rich waters that begin at the Mississippi Delta.  This manmade Angel of Death threatens us like no other.  This unmitigated, seemingly unstoppable horror forms a collective challenge that must become our defining purpose. 

In his weekly newsletter my friend Stephen Jordan at the Business Civic Leadership Center recalled government, business, and labor's finest hour:  Dunkirk and the war that ravaged Europe.  "Seventy years ago this week, things looked very bleak for Europe.  The British were scrambling to evacuate their troops from Dunkirk.  Winston Churchill called the events in France 'a colossal military disaster'... [But] over the nine days spanning May 27-June 4, the British were able to assemble a fleet of 850 boats and ultimately rescued over 300,000 troops."  From that day until the end of the war, government, industry, and labor delivered a sustained, coordinated response to one of the greatest evils ever created by mankind.  Such an effort is required once more.  This oil spill must become our generation's finest hour.

The false choice between market-based solutions on the one-hand or an almighty government on the other must end.  What we need, as we head off on this collective expedition to reclaim our national wellbeing is a call to action that will draw upon all our gifts.  We need a whole generation of Moseses to call upon our "better angels", forgoing recrimination without forgoing justice, so that our best can go to work.  The model for dealing with this crisis is less Watergate and more Mandela's Truth & Reconciliation process used in South Africa after the end of Apartheid.

We need the "bad guys" to help us solve the problem.  The talent and the know-how to face this challenge reside in the very companies that brought us this mess.  I've heard from my friends on Capitol Hill that they need to drag these people up for testimony now before the news-cycle moves on.  I see my colleagues in the energy sector hunkered down like turtles drawn back into their shells.  We must break both these cycles.  We can hold companies accountable without treating them all like criminals.  Our attention span must last longer than a celebrity rehab stay.

This problem goes beyond the gulf, the oil, and the fisheries.  This Angel of Death will reach into almost every sector of our lives.  That means we will need a solution that does as well.  Moses and Mandela called upon the whole of the people.  Real wrongdoing must be punished and if BP, Transocean, and Halliburton were negligent, they must pay the price.  At the same time, we must call forth the talent from these companies and their competitors to help us turn this into our finest hour.  Government, industry, labor, and all of society must come together in this unifying purpose.  In so doing we must emulate Moses because Moses will lead us out of the desert.  Pharaoh will only lead us deeper into the grasp of the Angel of Death, our national treasure choking at the bottom of the sea.

To join us in calling together all sectors of society to meet this challenge, please come to the inaugural meeting of the Corporate Excellence for Government Roundtable on June 30th.  Click here for more info.

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