Frank Rich of the New York Times…makes an ass out of himself yet again.
The frantic and fruitless nationwide search for the president’s temper is now our sole dependable comic relief from the tragedy in the gulf. Only The Onion could have imagined the White House briefing last week where a CBS News correspondent asked the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, if he had “really seen rage from the president” and to “describe it.” Gibbs came up with Obama’s “clenched jaw” and his order to “plug the damn hole.” (Thank God he hadn’t settled for “darn.”) This evidence did not persuade anyone, least of all Spike Lee, who could be found on CNN the next night begging the president, “One time, go off!”
Not going to happen. Obama will never unleash the anger of the antagonists in “Do the Right Thing” or match James Carville’s rebooted “ragin’ Cajun” shtick. That’s not who Obama is. If he tried to go off, he’d look ridiculous. But the debate over how to raise the president’s emotional thermostat is not an entirely innocuous distraction. It allows Obama to duck the more serious doubts about his leadership that have resurfaced along with BP’s oil.
Unlike his unflappable temperament, his lingering failings should and could be corrected. And they must be if his presidency is not just to rise above the 24/7 Spill-cam but to credibly seize the narrative that Americans have craved ever since he was elected during the most punishing economic downturn of our lifetime. We still want to believe that Obama is on our side, willing to fight those bad corporate actors who cut corners and gambled recklessly while regulators slept, Congress raked in contributions, and we got stuck with the wreckage and the bills. But his leadership style keeps sowing confusion about his loyalties, puncturing holes in the powerful tale he could tell.
His most conspicuous flaw is his unshakeable confidence in the collective management brilliance of the best and the brightest he selected for his White House team — “his abiding faith in the judgment of experts,” as Joshua Green of The Atlantic has put it. At his gulf-centric press conference 10 days ago, the president said he had “probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review.” This was meant to be reassuring but it was not. The plugging of an uncontrollable oil leak, like the pacification of an intractable Afghanistan, may be beyond the reach of marathon brainstorming by brainiacs, even if the energy secretary is a Nobel laureate. Obama has yet to find a sensible middle course between blind faith in his own Ivy League kind and his predecessor’s go-with-the-gut bravado.
By now, he also should have learned that the best and the brightest can get it wrong — and do. His economic advisers predicted that without the stimulus the unemployment rate might reach 9 percent — a projection that was quickly exceeded even with the stimulus and that has haunted the administration ever since. Other White House geniuses persuaded the president to make his fateful claim in early April that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills” — a particularly specious (indeed false) plank in the argument for his spectacularly ill-timed expansion of offshore oil drilling. The Times reported last week that at the administration meetings leading to this new drilling policy the subject of the vast dysfunction at the Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with regulating the drilling, never even came up.
That was pretty reasonable. I’m so glad the community of hardcore liberals won’t be listening to any of it. They’ve been having their fantasies about President Obama getting mad at least since September of ’09, and this accident with the oil spill has kicked it into high gear.
This is what democrat defeat is made of. “Life would be wonderful if only our guy would become angry!” He should kick something. No, he should yell and swear. No, he needs to rip people’s arms out of their sockets. Oh no, he needs to get all big and green and tear his shirt to shreds.
It plays in Manhattan but not in Peoria. Normal people, with no party allegiance but who decide elections, look at this stuff…they spend maybe a second or two trying to figure out how this relates to an oil leak a mile beneath the ocean’s surface. And they quite sensibly say, “You people are whacked in the head. We can’t afford to let you decide anything.”
We have intellectual children doing the work of grown-ups. Few things illustrate this as starkly as when the kiddies start to debate the proper display of anger, in situations in which anger does nothing to solve anything.
Here’s where the Frank Rich trolley really comes off the tracks.
Obama’s excessive trust in his own heady team is all too often matched by his inherent deference to the smartest guys in the boardroom in the private sector. His default assumption seems to be that his peers are always as well-intentioned as he is. The single biggest mistake he has made in managing the gulf disaster was his failure to challenge BP’s version of events from the start. The company consistently understated the spill’s severity, overestimated the progress of the repair operation and low-balled the environmental damage. Yet the White House’s designated point man in the crisis, Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, was still publicly reaffirming his trust in the BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, as recently as two weeks ago, more than a month after the rig exploded.
It’s not that his conclusions are unreasonable, Lord knows there’s enough blame to go around. It is his premises. They scare the hell out of me.
Consider what is being presumed here. BP does not have good intentions, but Barack Obama does. Perhaps these are both true. And to give him proper credit, he did say “seems to be.” But where does he ever subject them to serious question, and upon which facts did he decide them?
This is part of a very old and very troubling mindset among American liberals. If you ideologically lean toward the hard-left and you are on a government payroll of any kind…well then, the discussion is over. Your motives are not to be challenged, they are as pure as the driven snow.
BP’s record, as Rich goes on to point out, is pretty awful. That is why they are subject to government oversight and audits. Our liberals made us do it, you see; they figure if you work for an oil company you must want to dump toxic sludge into our waterways. They saw it on Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Therefore, whatever an oil company wants to do, we have to get our well-intentioned government people to say it’s alright before it can proceed.
And they did say it was alright.
This is the kind of logical cul de sac in which you find yourself trapped, when you think like a child while confronting grown-up issues like this. We’ll just put super-good, super-well-intentioned people in charge of things, and then everything will work all wonderfully. Until they don’t, then we have to do it again. The government regulators, they must have been well-intentioned but sleepy.
The idea that they could all be Looking Out For Number One, and also somewhat well-intentioned, just doesn’t even enter the realm of consideration.
The point is, this is ultimately why liberal policies don’t work. They rely on putting “Perfect People” in charge of everything, and when things still don’t work out the thing to do is put “More Perfect People” in charge of the Perfect People.
And to get mad.
How does an adult handle it? Well, funny you should ask. I’m looking at Allahpundit’s column in which he “gulps” that, in light of the disaster involving the BP oil spill, 51% now oppose new offshore drilling…
It’s a poll of adults, not registered or likely voters, but there’s no reason to doubt the trend. A Gallup poll taken last week showed a double-digit reversal in just two months between whether energy production or the environment should be a higher priority for America. A Quinnipiac poll from mid-May showed 53 percent support for continuing offshore drilling, but that was before “top kill” failed. Now, per CBS, the majority is pointing the other way.
And I don’t see what all the gulping is about. Offshore drilling is becoming increasingly unpopular; of course it is, I’d be wondering about peoples’ sanity if it were not.
My grown-up take on it is this: Lots of people say offshore drilling is too risky, so fine. Move the drilling inland. Drill on land. Open the Bakken, open ANWR. Any environmentalists get in the way, show ’em a picture of an oil-covered pelican from the Gulf, then kick ’em out of the way just like “The Rock” Obama. Maybe give ’em a taste of their own medicine: “Oh if you get in my way you must want more dead birds,” something like that. Can’t say they don’t have it comin’.
A majority of respondents, a growing one, agrees with this approach right? Off shore drilling is too dangerous. Let’s do the environmentally conscientious thing, tell the environmentalists to get lost, and drill on land where we can manage whatever mishaps take place.
Then we don’t have to worry about getting mad. We don’t have to worry about getting even. We don’t have to put “perfect” people in charge of things or wonder about what their intentions are.
Unless I’m missing something here?