June 14, 2010

Obama, 3 a.m. and the long walk from leadership

Is it just me, or will the President's switch from seeming nonchalance on the oil spill to one of potential face-time overkill something that isn't likely going to help his popularity too much?  He's dug himself a hole and there is no easy climb out of it here.

Originally the President seemed less than focused on the oil spill and on BP.  Since that time his popularity ratings have slid and his initial response of sending lawyers instead of engineers didn't help matters for him anyway.  How is sending in Eric Holder to prosecute the offenders going to stop the leak?  Even the most rabid anti-capitalist environmentalists would likely deem that putting the cart before the horse (I like that cliche because I'm sure a lot of environmentalists would love to see us go back to the horse and cart era).

Pulling out the original Obama playbook - lots of photo ops and lots of speeches, I think the President and his team think they can turn around that ratings slide with some patronizing pablum about petroleum priorities.  They probably expect the environmental crowd will eat it up.  I'm not so sure they will.  Comparisons to Katrina, the Iran situation and 9/11 (which the President will make tonight) are all not entirely valid but all have certain similarities.  But most meaningful is the Hillary Clinton attack ad about the 3 a.m. phone call.  It was run as an attack on Obama's inexperience in foreign affairs.  While this is not a 'foreign' affair it is a stunning example of inexperience and being asleep at the wheel.  Even with the change in visual importance of the crisis, the President is seemingly playing politics and he is not providing any comfort in this situation.

Remember all those comments about being there from Day 1?  Well if that was the message then that means the intervening 50 days are not just BP's failure but the President's too.  In that light, this change in tack to be more engaged seems like nothing more than politics as usual - get the public to think we are rolling up our sleeves now because they didn't notice that we already said we did that.

Whether you think President Bush blew it on Katrina, his first Katrina was indeed 9/11.  His response was swift, direct and agree or not, it showed leadership.  This President is not offering that same leadership.  Saying you want to know "whose @ss to kick" is not leadership.  It's a variation of blame Bush - blame BP.  While the President may enjoy a temporary reprieve in his approval ratings decline, it will not last. The hope and change vision is not the same as actually governing and the public has observed that.  What really matters when it comes to governing is indeed experience, and leadership.  That 3 a.m. phone call requires both and what is on display instead is inertia, blame and interest only to the extent that the President is seemingly now being personally affected.  That's a long walk from leadership.

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