Commentary Magazine


We Don’t Need Clint Eastwood

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “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 said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”