It’s not a good narrative arc: The man who walked on water is now ensnared by a crisis under water.
One little hole a mile down on the ocean floor, so deep it seems like hell spewing up its sulfurous smoke, has turned the thrilling saga of “The One” into the gurgling horror of “The Abyss.” (Thank goodness James Cameron, the director of “The Abyss,” came to Washington Tuesday to help the administration figure out how to cap the BP well. What’s next? Sending down the Transformers and Megan Fox?)
With as much as 34 million gallons of oil inking the Gulf of Mexico, “Yes we can” has been downgraded to “Will we ever?”
It’s impossible not to feel sorry for President Obama, pummeled by the cascading disasters, at home and abroad, unleashed by two war-mongering oil men. (Dick Cheney’s dark influence is still belching like the well. BP just brought on a new public relations executive: Anne Womack-Kolton, who served as Cheney’s campaign press secretary in 2004 and worked in W.’s White House and at the Energy Department.)
Obama wanted to be a transformative president and now the presidency is transforming him.
Instead of buoyant, he seems put upon. Instead of the fairy dust of hopefulness, there’s the bitter draught of helplessness.
His battle against water is taking on Biblical — even Job-like — proportions.
Besides the roiling water below, the skies opened from above and gusting, lightning-streaked rains drowned the president’s plans to give a Memorial Day speech at the Lincoln cemetery near Chicago.
On the evening news, pictures of the president standing under an umbrella shooing people off the soggy field were a sad contrast to the wildly sentimental Joe Biden presiding, hand on heart, over a sunny and moving Memorial Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery.
After suffering more indignities — a S.U.V. in his motorcade blew a tire on I-55 outside of Chicago — a tired-looking Obama returned to Andrews Air Force Base at 7:30 Monday night and went to an area called the “tactical fitness center” to give his remarks to 150 or so subdued service members who had been rounded up by the White House advance team.
As The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut wryly wrote in her pool report: “It has been years since President Obama attended a rally like the one that took place here Monday night: sparsely attended, thrown together at the last minute, involving people who were not expecting to be there. We’re partying like it’s Obama circa 2005.”
The oil won’t stop flowing, but the magic has.
Barack Obama is a guy who is accustomed to having stuff go right for him. He’s gotten a lot of breaks: two opponents in his U.S. Senate race in Illinois felled by personal scandals; a mismanaged presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton; an economic collapse that set the stage for a historic win, memorably described by the satiric Onion newspaper as “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”
Reporters grilled Robert Gibbs at his White House briefing on Tuesday about the president’s strange inability to convey passion over a historical environmental disaster. This was underscored by Obama’s perfunctory drop-by to a sanitized beach in Grand Isle, La. Despite his recent ode about growing up near an ocean, he didn’t bother to meet with the regular folks who have lost their seafaring livelihoods.
After Gibbs asserted that his boss was “enraged” at BP, CBS News’s Chip Reid skeptically pressed: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”
“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs insisted. “I have.”
Reid asked for an exact definition of what constitutes emotion for Obama: “Can you describe it? Does he yell and scream? What does he do?”
Gibbs mentioned the words “clenched jaw” and the president’s admonition to “plug the damn hole.”
How does a man who invented himself as a force by writing one of the most eloquent memoirs in political history lose control of his own narrative?
In “Dreams From My Father,” Obama showed passion, lyricism, empathy and an exquisite understanding of character and psychological context — all the qualities that he has stubbornly resisted showing as president. It was a book that promised a president who could see into the hearts of other people. But there’s so much you don’t learn about candidates in campaigns, even when they seem completely exposed.
This president has made it clear that he’s not comfortable outside whatever domain he’s defined. But unless he wants his story to be marred by a pattern of passivity, detachment, acquiescence and compromise, he’d better seize control of the story line of his White House years. Woe-is-me is not an attractive narrative. (Source Maureen Dowd NYT)