May 31, 2010

Obama pokes a dollop of tar with his finger

"When I saw that the president will be hosting a concert honoring Sir Paul next week, my first reaction wasn't, "I hope they play 'Hey, Jude.'" Given the White House's decidedly tame response to the BP disaster (perfectly summed up by James Carville as "hands-offy"), it was, "Are you kidding me?!" This is not the time for a White House sing-along. It's time to set up a temporary White House in New Orleans until the well is capped." — Arianna Huffington

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it. “This president needs to tell BP, ’I’m your daddy,’ “ scolded James Carville, a New Orleans resident, as he called Barack Obama’s response to Louisiana’s new watery heartbreak “lackadaisical.”— Maureen Dowd, NYT

It's at times like this that I realise that president is very different from Prime Minister. It has more paternalistic connotations, bordering on the talismanic, nay super-heroic — even for Republicans. No matter that Obama is doing everything humanly possible to plug the leak. He is not doing anything super-humanly possible. And if he can't do anything super-humanly possible, he must at the least be seen to waste his time with a ritualistic show of doing something, no matter how dumb, such as crouch on a beach and poke at a dollop of tar with his finger. Ah. What balm to the nation's frazzled nerves that was. How I wish he could poke at tar with his finger every morning — afternoons as well, and maybe evenings to boot. Maybe it would be better if he moved his entire white house onto the beach as Huffington suggests. Then he could poke at it all day, week in, week out. I'm with The Economist:
This may be the sorriest spectacle of content-free public hyperventilation since Al Gore's earth tones. The difference is that in this case the issue is deadly serious; it's the public discourse that is puerile. There is plenty of room for substantive critique of the flaws in governance and policy uncovered by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. You could talk about regulatory failure. You could talk about corporate impunity. You could talk about blithely ignoring the tail-end risk of going ahead with deepwater drilling without any capacity to cope with catastrophic blowouts. Precisely none of these subjects are evident in the arguments our pundit class is having. Instead we have empty-headed squawking over what the catastrophe is doing to Barack Obama's image
I find it odd how meta the whole thing is. The photo-op wouldn't fool Arianna: she just wants him to do it for everyone else. But everyone else is exactly the same: it's not them that would be taken in by the entirely symbolic photo-op they're advising, but the poor putz a few states over. Sometimes the entire country seems comprised not of ordinary citizens, but political hacks, pollsters and spin doctors. We're all in on the act. (It's reminds me of those weird insta-polls on CNN telling us what the American people is thinking, which always make me want to go: sshhh, the American people is watching.) Am I alone in thinking that, under the circumstances, Obama is doing as good a job as could be expected, or even a great job? In your mind's eye, try putting someone else in charge (Bush, McCain, Palin) and then give me your answer.

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