We know that President Obama doesn’t like press conferences. His last meeting with the press, over 10 months ago, didn’t go so well. During the heat of last year’s health care debate, the unscripted (no teleprompter) session, on July 22, 2009, threw the president off balance; it was when he made those controversial remarks about the “Skip” Gates incident, you recall.
Obama agreed to face the press this morning in an attempt to allay growing anger, including from supporters, regarding what looks like Obama’s nonchalant attitude toward the Gulf oil disaster.
Although Obama was probably advised that he better get out there and say something to assure people he was on top of the situation and in control of BP (rather than the other way around), there was nothing in this morning’s question and answer session that would quell people’s fears and concerns.
In fact, some of his statements generate more questions as to what is exactly going on.
Obama, for instance, claimed he knew nothing about the firing of MMS head Elizabeth Birnbaum even though the Associated Press reported earlier Obama himself fired her and that he would announce her firing in this press conference (see link). Obama this morning, however, claimed he learned about it “after the fact” and questioned that it was in fact a firing, but more her resignation.
Obama also did nothing to directly address the corruption and bribe-taking that Minerals Management Service (MMS) took to shirk their duties to inspect the safety devices on rigs like Deepwater Horizon. Had they done their jobs, rather than accepting gifts to look the other way, our Gulf coastlines might not be facing total destruction from millions of barrels of oil!
Obama is continuing to do at least two things wrong, in my opinion:
- Obama is not getting personally involved and taking command of this crisis;
- Obama is using this crisis to springboard his energy agenda.
Let’s take number one, here’s what I mean:
President Obama is being too cerebral about this disaster. Sure, we know that he’s intellectual and a thinker, but this “heady” attitude of his gives me the impression that he spends his time in a room in the “thinker” pose; not getting directly involved; not feeling, or trying to feel, what people are going through down there.
For all his talk this morning about being “in charge” and how he meets everyday with everyone for updates, I get the feeling that this is all rumination; he’s analyzing it from afar, indirectly, the way someone would impersonally analyze, for instance, a math problem.
Obama this morning made excuses as to why he rejected 15 countries’ offers to help, only accepting assistance from Norway and Mexico. He also skirted questions about stalling on Federal permits for Louisiana to construct barrier islands off their coastline.
What he could do, and what he should do, is order the Army Corps of Engineers to waive environmental impact reports so that Louisiana can protect itself: and Obama should have made that order this morning during the press conference. But he didn’t. Instead, he rambled on in a long and confusing answer and then went on to the next question.
Even though he referred to this crisis as “a tragedy, and it’s a tragedy,” the very fact that he feels he has to reiterate the word indicates that he’s trying to impress us that he feels this situation, but he really doesn’t.
Obama repeatedly claimed how involved he and the government are; that they are doing everything they can “on the surface” of the water to clean up the oil. Oh really?
If that’s so, why is it that people down there aren’t seeing it?
James Carville yesterday told CNN that the marsh he was in yesterday was “quiet;” that there was no evidence of anyone there to clean it or assess the damage. Reporters in the middle of the Gulf, sitting in oil 360-degrees around them all the way to the horizon, say there are no skimmers or skimming efforts at all.
The second thing that President Obama is doing wrong is that he appears to be using this oil disaster as a springboard to push his own energy agenda. We don’t want to hear excuses about how we must “move forward” to solar and wind power, we want action now to stop the leak, clean up the ocean, and restore our beaches and fishing areas.
I’m all in favor for totally getting off oil. But, if the president really wants to take this country off oil, then he should do it by proposing legislation or enacting policies to inspire business and industry toward alternative innovations. But, today’s press conference is not the time to push politics. By going on for several minutes about how we can look forward to a clean future by enacting legislation, but for now we must put up with the dirt and filth of oil, Obama is looking like a typical politician, not a statesmen, nor a leader.
The best thing Obama could do right now is to spend some time in the Gulf region. I know that he said he’s going there again today, but that’s not what I mean. He goes there for a few photos and speeches, sheltered away from everyone else, and then he leaves again for Washington. What I mean is to really spend some time there, right in the middle of it.
As Mary Matalin said yesterday, “Feel it, smell it!” referring to the oil that was coating her hands, she was holding a bottle drenched in oil.
That’s what Obama needs to do now, to prevent his administration from becoming like Carter’s. Obama needs to feel it and smell it; and he needs to prove that to us!