Okay, I’ll admit it…this last month Barack Obama has not shone. His lack of public outrage and sympathy for the perpetrators and victims of the Gulf Spill, now being called ‘Obama’s Katrina’, has, at least in the public’s perception, been disappointing at best. While in private he’s railed at his staff, telling them angrily to “Plug the damn leak.”, he hasn’t allowed his private emotions to be made public. But this is one of those times, like Roosevelt’s speech on December 8th ,1941 or even George W. Bush’s address from atop the ruins of the Twin Towers (despite how that turned out), where Americans actually do want to know their leader is just as capable of emotion and anger as they are. It hasn’t been his only political misstep recently, but it may be his worst.
The fact that not long ago Mr. Obama gave a cautious endorsement to expanded off-shore drilling may be part of the reason for his not jumping all over this disaster- the Limbaugh’s and Palin’s would’ve hit him with charges of ‘waffling’, just as they complained that his call to drill more was a hypocritical ploy that would never produce a barrel of American oil. That’s what happened to Schwarzenegger when, days after the spill began, he backtracked on his own position and pledged to stop all new drilling off the California coast. Pundits were all over him for his “knee-jerk reaction”. They’re not saying much about it anymore, 42 days after the worst spill in American history spill began.
Had he immediately said, ‘See? This is what happens when you let Halliburton decide America’s energy policy.” as they actually did during Dick Cheney’s closed door energy meetings back in 2001, he would have been accused of passing the buck, or at the very least asked why the hell didn’t he do something about it in the past eighteen months. The fact that investigations may indeed prove that Cheney’s relaxing of Big Oil’s oversight may prove to be the reason for this disaster will be forgotten, at least in the near term. And the fact that the President has had his hands full dealing with all Bush’s other mistakes…the collapsed economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, the breakdown of relationships with our allies…pick your favorite, won’t help much either. A president is expected to be ready for anything, now.
If, in the first days following the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, Mr. Obama has issued a statement saying, “This is why I’ve taken eighteen months to decide to support of offshore drilling. While the principal is sound, we’ve been questioning whether we were able to do it safely and despite a decade’s worth of assertions that we could, this tragedy shows that even one accident, whether it was due to poor regulation or just a completely isolated incident, has shown us the potential of causing irreparable harm to our environment and the lively hood of tens of thousands of Americans. Therefore, until all the investigations are completed and we know what happened, I’m putting new drilling on hold.”, he would’ve taken flack from the Drill Baby Drill cohort, but now, forty two days later, he’d be looking okay, or at least better.
And while immediately heading out there would’ve brought charges of ” Cynical Photo-Op!”, hindsight shows he would’ve been regarded as caring and on top of it, rather than appearing aloof and unconcerned. But that’s the problem; hindsight doesn’t happen until it’s too late.
Mr. Obama prides himself on his objectivity and intelligence. He is not a knee-jerk man and that’s a good thing, mostly anyway. I believe he’s passionate about the things he believes in. But while you can spend 99% of your time being the calm go-to guy, every now and then it’s actually helpful to just blow your stack, for a good reason. It keeps the people under you on their toes, not knowing if when they fuck up that rage will be directed at them. It’s a cynical calculation, but you also have to have a damn good reason too in order to avoid being labeled a whacko. Bill Clinton did it all the time and almost always to perfection, those brief flashes of outrage on behalf of the little guy.
If the President had gone to the Gulf and showed a moment or two of true emotion (and let’s face it, everyone but Dick Cheney would get emotional kneeling next to a dead, oil covered pelican) and vowed angrily to make BP pay for this, even though he probably couldn’t, he’d probably be okay as well. That’s because we’re an irrationally knee-jerk nation only concerned with the here and now, while Mr. Obama is a big picture man trying to develop a decades long strategy for America. But in American politics, what happens down the road is just that- down the road.
But life is what happens while you’re making plans for it. You’ve got to do both, plan for the future and deal with present. I still trust Barack Obama; I’m uncomfortable with some of the things that he’s done lately…skipping Arlington on Memorial Day (unless it was to visit the Gulf Coast) is a huge political misstep for a man running two wars. Hiring a bunch of Wall Street executives to fix Wall Street is another, even if the only people capable of figuring out how to fix it are Wall Streeter’s.
He needs to communicate more directly with the American people, ala’ FDR’s Fireside Chats. Not news conferences, not his Saturday radio address, something different, along the lines of, “Folks, some things happened this week and I want to give you a quick rundown on them. We all know about the spill in the Gulf. It’s terrible and my heart goes out to the people directly affected and all Americans who are horrified by it. We’re working night and day to figure out what went wrong, how to fix it and most of all, how to keep it from ever happening again. This is gonna take a while.
I’m also still doing everything I can to get you guys back to work and make our economy stabile again. And to our soldiers and their families, I want to again say thanks for the sacrifices you’re making for our country…you’re always, no matter what else is happening, in my thoughts.
These are difficult times and difficult problems with no quick fixes and I appreciate your patience and support. Nothing will get put on hold, but there’s a lot that needs to get done. We may not get everything right the first time, but if we don’t, I promise you we’ll adapt…that’s what American’s do best, adapt to the situation…and we won’t quit until we get it right, for the sake of your children and mine. Thank you and keep me in your prayers; I know that in end with your help and support we’ll succeed. Goodnight and God bless you all.”
Takes about five minutes to say with pauses and emphasis’s. Do it once a week on You Tube and ship it to news outlets for a ten second blurb. Doesn’t really say much either, no concrete plans or proposals. But it’s human, optimistic yet somber. Yeah, it sounds like a campaign speech, but being president is one long campaign from day one till the next election day.
And the Limbaugh’s and Beck’s will mock them. So what? They make their living by trying to make their country fail. I know Mr. Obama really does care, even if it’s just because he’s so taken with himself that he’s too proud to fail. I don’t really care why he wants to succeed, just as long as he does.