Can the One Drop the No. 23 Act?
Of the many exciting things about Barack Obama’s election, one was the anticipation of a bracing dose of normality in the White House.
America had been trapped for eight years with the Clintons’ marital dysfunction disastrously shaping national events, and then trapped for another eight with the Bushes’ Oedipal dysfunction disastrously shaping international events. And before that, L.B.J. and Nixon had acted pretty nutty at times.
President Obama was supposed to be a soothing change. He had a rough childhood. Michelle once told a friend that “Barack spent so much time by himself it was like he was raised by wolves.” But he seemed to have come through exceptionally well adjusted. “His aides from the Senate, the presidential campaign, and the White House routinely described him with the same words: ‘psychologically healthy,’ ” writes Jonathan Alter in “The Promise,” a chronicle of Obama’s first year in office.
So it’s unnerving now to have yet another president elevating personal quirks into a management style.
How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?
President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly has instead obscured his vision; it has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level, and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that a series of greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate push-back from the president.
“Even though I’m president of the United States, my power’s not limitless,” Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle residents Friday. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”
Once more Tuesday night, we were back to back-against-the-wall time. The president went for his fourth-quarter, Michael Jordan, down-to-the-wire, thrill shot in the Oval Office, his first such address to a nation sick about the slick.
You know the president is drowning – in oil, this time—when he uses the Oval Office. And do words really matter when the picture of oil gushing out of the well continues to fill the screen?
As Obama prepared to go on air, a government panel of scientists again boosted their estimate of how much oil is belching into the besmirched Gulf, raising it from 2.1 million gallons a day to 2.5 million.
The president acknowledged that the problems in M.M.S. were deeper than he had known and “the pace of reform was much too slow.” He admitted that “there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.”
He appointed a czar and a new official at M.M.S. and tried to restore a sense of confident leadership -- “The one approach I will not accept is inaction” – and compassion, reporting on the shrimpers and fishermen and their “wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.” He acted like he was the boss of BP on the issue of compensation. And he called on us to pray.
Testifying before Congress Tuesday, Rex Tillerson, the head of Exxon, conceded that the emphasis is on prevention because when “these things” happen, “we’re not very well equipped to deal with them.”
Robert Gibbs yesterday continued the White House effort to emote, telling TV: “It makes your blood boil.” But they miss the point. Nobody needs to see the president yelling or pounding the table. Ronald Reagan could convey command with a smile; Clint Eastwood, with a whisper. Americans need to know the president cares so they can be sure he’s taking fast, muscular and proficient action.
W. and Dick Cheney were too headlong, jumping off crazy cliffs and dragging the country – and the world -- with them. President Obama is the opposite, often too hesitant to take the obvious action. He seems unable to muster the adrenalin necessary to go full boar until the crowd has waited and wailed and almost given up on him, but it’s a nerve-racking way to campaign and govern.
“On the one hand, you have BP, who sees a risky hole in the ground a couple miles under the sea surface and thinks if we take more risk, and cut some corners, we make gazillions more. In taking on more risk, they’re gambling with more than money,” said Richard Wolffe, an Obama biographer. “On the other hand, you have Obama, who is ambivalent about risk. What he does late is to embrace risk, like running for president, Afghanistan and health care. But in deferring the risk, he’s gambling with his authority and political capital.”
By trying too hard to keep control, he ends up losing control.
(Source: NYT Can the One Drop the No. 23 Act? by Maureen Dowd)