While the waves lapping against Louisiana’s shoreline bring with them sticky tar balls, the nation’s airwaves are also thick with the sludge of claims and counterclaims about the president’s response to the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. All that leaking crude has ignited a firestorm of ugly accusations and addled rhetoric. This morning in the New York Times, for example, part-time columnist, full-time Obama hagiographer Charles Blow finally ran out of excuses for the impotence of Obama’s leadership during this crisis, so turned instead to—turned on, actually—the American people. Turns out, we, all of us, including maybe even those of us here illegally, are to blame, according to Blow. Americans are, he says “fickle and excitable, hotheaded and prone to overreaction, easily frightened and in constant need of reassurance.”
That many are critical of the president’s myriad errors in judgment, which reflect the systemic failure of his administration, is nothing more than the “overreaction” of a bunch of wimpy, temperamental crybabies. If there is any accuracy at all to that characterization, I think it applies more to a single American—you know who—than to the American people.
I had my clock cleaned on another website earlier in the week when I hazarded my opinion that the administration was failing to meet its most basic responsibility: to provide for the common defense. Our waters and our land are imperiled by the leaking oil. Our country is in urgent need of defense from this chemical attack. That is the job of the federal government. And while it is true I favor limited government, I am a firm, enthusiastic supporter of the government fulfilling its promise to keep its citizens and homeland safe from external threats. There is nothing inconsistent in this point of view. One commenter called me an idiot, and another asked me if I expected the president to “put on his Superman suit and plug the whole himself.” This savvy writer went on to let me know that “Republicans clinging to their god, rifles, guns and bibles” made him “sick.” Good to know, but hardly relevant to me or what I wrote.
As I responded to savvy writer, no. I do not expect the president to don fancy dress. But the reality is that during this crisis Obama has changed his affect as often as the Sex and the City II gals change costumes. Just in the last few days he has tried on an unbecoming insolence and swagger, promising to “kick ass.” Before that he was way overdressed as the concerned father figure, dragging poor Malia into the fray and sonorously assuring us that children are our future so we owe them beaches that are tar-ball free. Before that, he played the busy executive, clad in an ill-fitting grey flannel suit, delegating here and there so that he could focus on the country’s most pressing problem, raising campaign funds for Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer.
The reality is that the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has terrifyingly documented that the administration has failed to learn the single most important lesson from the aftermath of 9/11: establish a unified command. While the president is busy shrieking like a woman scorned to “make BP pay,” thousands of unemployed folks—their joblessness as much a result of the insane decision to suspend offshore drilling as anything BP failed to do—are trying to find someone to help them. While the president panders to his union sugar daddies, offers of assistance from foreign vessels with the equipment and manpower to Hoover up the oil are ignored. Other offers are rejected because for every 5,000 gallons of oil a vessel vacuums from the Gulf, a couple of pints are returned, temporarily, to the water. While the president natters on about a future he admits he cannot envision, the rest of us wonder if any of his thoughts are focused on the clear and present danger that is staring the rest of us in the face.
Does this president have no sense of the magnitude of the disaster he is facing? Does he not understand that the soft-focus verdant future he longs for is endangered by his own fecklessness?
I don’t know the answer to the questions, but like savvy reader, I am sickened when I entertain the thought that the president, cool, calm and collected as he is, is not, in fact, letting this crisis go to waste.