Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gulf of Mexico

Barack Obama and the Limits of Government

There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.

The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”

It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.

The truth is that during situations like Katrina and the blowout in the Gulf, White House aides are working around the clock trying to mitigate the human and ecological damage. But there are enormous practical and logistical problems one faces. They are not nearly as easy to overcome as commentators pretend. We cannot make perfection the price of confidence, as Henry Kissinger — a brilliant and terrifically able public servant who also made mistakes along the way — once said.

We would all be better off if those working outside government were somewhat more understanding of the challenges facing those in government, even as they shouldn’t suspend reasonable judgments. At the same time, Barack Obama — who was hypercritical of administrations when he wasn’t chief executive — shouldn’t be shocked if he is held to the same standard he used for others.

Governing seemed so much easier when Obama was a senator rather than the president, when he could go on Sunday-morning talk shows and highlight failures here, there, and everywhere. Now that he is president and has stumbled so badly on so many different issues, broken so many different commitments, and made so many false claims, one might hope that he has been humbled a bit. But I imagine that hope is a fantastic one, given who it is we are dealing with.

There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.

The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”

It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.

The truth is that during situations like Katrina and the blowout in the Gulf, White House aides are working around the clock trying to mitigate the human and ecological damage. But there are enormous practical and logistical problems one faces. They are not nearly as easy to overcome as commentators pretend. We cannot make perfection the price of confidence, as Henry Kissinger — a brilliant and terrifically able public servant who also made mistakes along the way — once said.

We would all be better off if those working outside government were somewhat more understanding of the challenges facing those in government, even as they shouldn’t suspend reasonable judgments. At the same time, Barack Obama — who was hypercritical of administrations when he wasn’t chief executive — shouldn’t be shocked if he is held to the same standard he used for others.

Governing seemed so much easier when Obama was a senator rather than the president, when he could go on Sunday-morning talk shows and highlight failures here, there, and everywhere. Now that he is president and has stumbled so badly on so many different issues, broken so many different commitments, and made so many false claims, one might hope that he has been humbled a bit. But I imagine that hope is a fantastic one, given who it is we are dealing with.

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Obama’s Left-Wing Base Flees as Oil Spill Spreads

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is further eroding President Obama’s standing with the public, faith in his competence, and trust in the federal government. There is even a rupture developing between Obama and his left-wing base. For evidence, watch James Carville here and some of the liberal commentators on MSNBC here. The Obama presidency is struggling badly right now — and things will, I think, get worse rather than better.

Hope and change seem like a lifetime ago, don’t they?

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is further eroding President Obama’s standing with the public, faith in his competence, and trust in the federal government. There is even a rupture developing between Obama and his left-wing base. For evidence, watch James Carville here and some of the liberal commentators on MSNBC here. The Obama presidency is struggling badly right now — and things will, I think, get worse rather than better.

Hope and change seem like a lifetime ago, don’t they?

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A Sea Change on Spending

One of the reasons I’m sanguine about the elections this year is that I sense a sea change in the political climate against spending. I’m hardly the only one. Just for instance, there’s E. Thomas McClanahan of the Kansas City Star. The election of Chris Christie and Scott Brown in deeply blue states argues the same thing. So does the success of the tea parties.

But the Democrats and, especially, the Obama administration are deeply committed to ever greater spending. Even the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, supposedly fiscal hawks, mostly signed on to ObamaCare, which, if fully implemented, will increase federal spending the way the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is increasing pollution.

More, the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the biggest engine of spending in town, the public employees’ unions. Mort Zuckerman details just how destructive the nexus between politicians and public employees’ unions has become. Michael Barone points out that the administration is pushing Congress to spend an additional $23 billion to prevent teacher layoffs this year. This is in addition to the one-third of last year’s stimulus bill that went to prevent layoffs of government workers.

Might this largesse have anything to do with the fact that labor unions gave Democrats $400 million in the last election cycle? Might the Pope be a Catholic? That’s why only Republicans can ride this tide of public anger at spending and public employees’ unions. If they do, it will lead on to fortune.

One of the reasons I’m sanguine about the elections this year is that I sense a sea change in the political climate against spending. I’m hardly the only one. Just for instance, there’s E. Thomas McClanahan of the Kansas City Star. The election of Chris Christie and Scott Brown in deeply blue states argues the same thing. So does the success of the tea parties.

But the Democrats and, especially, the Obama administration are deeply committed to ever greater spending. Even the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, supposedly fiscal hawks, mostly signed on to ObamaCare, which, if fully implemented, will increase federal spending the way the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is increasing pollution.

More, the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the biggest engine of spending in town, the public employees’ unions. Mort Zuckerman details just how destructive the nexus between politicians and public employees’ unions has become. Michael Barone points out that the administration is pushing Congress to spend an additional $23 billion to prevent teacher layoffs this year. This is in addition to the one-third of last year’s stimulus bill that went to prevent layoffs of government workers.

Might this largesse have anything to do with the fact that labor unions gave Democrats $400 million in the last election cycle? Might the Pope be a Catholic? That’s why only Republicans can ride this tide of public anger at spending and public employees’ unions. If they do, it will lead on to fortune.

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Obama the Crybaby

Barack Obama is quite a piece of work.

On Friday, in speaking about the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the president said this:

You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.

I understand that there are legal and financial issues involved, and a full investigation will tell us exactly what happened. But it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly. And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it.

That includes, by the way, the federal government. For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore. To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify.

Now isn’t that rich? Here we have the most compulsive finger-pointing, blame-shifting, I’m-not-responsible-for-anything-that’s-happening-on-my-watch president imaginable lecturing others about finger-pointing. He’s like an alcoholic who sermonizes to his college-age son for drinking a Bud Light. The man who seemingly cannot go more than five minutes without blaming someone, somewhere, for the problems he faces is now insisting on personal accountability from others.

It gets better, though. Mr. Obama, in saying that the federal government has some responsibility for what went wrong, reverts to his habit by blaming — you guessed it — the prior administration while praising his own. This was too much even for Chip Reid of CBS News, who points out:

“A decade or more” clearly encompasses the Bush Administration, and may include the Clinton years too. But Mr. Obama’s been president for nearly 16 months. Does he get at least a little piece of the blame? Not a bit, he made clear. He portrayed his administration as valiantly fighting the good fight against the oil companies from day one.

Ah, yes, how fortunate we all are to have on our side Barack the Valiant, intrepid fighter of all things evil, at once omnicompetent and all-wise, forever put upon because he must clean up the mistakes of others.

It is all rather childish, this delusional game our president plays. Mr. Obama’s manifest public failures are increasingly having to make room for his private ones. He is a whiner and a crybaby. And he should, for his own sake, cease and desist.

Barack Obama is quite a piece of work.

On Friday, in speaking about the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the president said this:

You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.

I understand that there are legal and financial issues involved, and a full investigation will tell us exactly what happened. But it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly. And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it.

That includes, by the way, the federal government. For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore. To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify.

Now isn’t that rich? Here we have the most compulsive finger-pointing, blame-shifting, I’m-not-responsible-for-anything-that’s-happening-on-my-watch president imaginable lecturing others about finger-pointing. He’s like an alcoholic who sermonizes to his college-age son for drinking a Bud Light. The man who seemingly cannot go more than five minutes without blaming someone, somewhere, for the problems he faces is now insisting on personal accountability from others.

It gets better, though. Mr. Obama, in saying that the federal government has some responsibility for what went wrong, reverts to his habit by blaming — you guessed it — the prior administration while praising his own. This was too much even for Chip Reid of CBS News, who points out:

“A decade or more” clearly encompasses the Bush Administration, and may include the Clinton years too. But Mr. Obama’s been president for nearly 16 months. Does he get at least a little piece of the blame? Not a bit, he made clear. He portrayed his administration as valiantly fighting the good fight against the oil companies from day one.

Ah, yes, how fortunate we all are to have on our side Barack the Valiant, intrepid fighter of all things evil, at once omnicompetent and all-wise, forever put upon because he must clean up the mistakes of others.

It is all rather childish, this delusional game our president plays. Mr. Obama’s manifest public failures are increasingly having to make room for his private ones. He is a whiner and a crybaby. And he should, for his own sake, cease and desist.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

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It’s Not All Under Control

Over the weekend, faced with the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the terrorist incident in Times Square, government officials at all levels sought to reassure us. In the case of the SUV on 45th Street, we were almost instantly told it was amateurish, a one-off, a lone wolf, maybe someone angry about health-care reform. In the case of the oil spill, it was that, in the words of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, “Every possible resource was being lined up on shore.”

Of course it wasn’t a one-off lone wolf mad about health care. And it turned out that every possible resource wasn’t being lined up on shore — that the main system for dealing with oil spills to keep them from the shore line, the so-called “fire booms,” were nowhere near and that no one had properly marshaled resources to get them there.

We can discuss the reasons for the bizarre assertion by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who should be lucky he will never run for office again, that the bomber was probably just a talk-radio listener driven to mass murder by the passage of Obama’s health-care measure. No matter that his own police department busted an Islamic terror ring aiming to strike the subway system just last summer. In some odd way, by pinning the possibility on, let’s face it, a white guy, Bloomberg was trying to stem panic. A lone attack by a lunatic has no larger meaning except the meaning it can be given by armchair sociologists and the politically expedient. A very nearly successful mass-murder plot arranged in Pakistan and carried out by an American citizen who bought a car for $1,200 cash off a website makes it clear just what kind of casual jeopardy we are in even now, nearly nine years after 9/11, and how fiendishly difficult it can be to prevent small-scale efforts that could bring about enormous pain and suffering and destruction.

Similarly, with the oil spill, though federal government officials say over and over again how dangerous and threatening the results are and may be, they are compulsively insistent that they are on the ball, they are competent, they are doing everything necessary — even though the fault and liability, as they make clear, is with BP, the owner of the rig. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over time, it’s that when one-of-a-kind crises occur, no one in the early stages knows what on earth he’s doing. Feds and state officials and local officials bump into one another; everybody thinks somebody else is in charge of some aspect of fixing the problem; fights break out; the media screams like banshees; and clarity is achieved only after the initial confusion can be resolved.

Instead of acknowledging this truth, government officials believe it is their role to provide reassurance even when they cannot do so. And they’re simply wrong about that. The American people are far more sophisticated about these things than those officials appear to believe, and they can be talked to like adults. That was the lesson, in part, of the immediate aftermath of September 11, when Rudy Giuliani simply said that the “number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately.” He sugar-coated nothing. And that is the truth of crises and crisis management. When it is done well, there should be no sugar-coating. The impulse to sugar-coat is a mark of the conviction among politicians that they are in the same relation to the body politic as a parent is to a child. In our system, a politician is an employee, not a parent. For a rational employer, an employee who gives it to you straight will always be someone you take more seriously than an employee who pretends that everything is fine when everything isn’t.

Over the weekend, faced with the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the terrorist incident in Times Square, government officials at all levels sought to reassure us. In the case of the SUV on 45th Street, we were almost instantly told it was amateurish, a one-off, a lone wolf, maybe someone angry about health-care reform. In the case of the oil spill, it was that, in the words of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, “Every possible resource was being lined up on shore.”

Of course it wasn’t a one-off lone wolf mad about health care. And it turned out that every possible resource wasn’t being lined up on shore — that the main system for dealing with oil spills to keep them from the shore line, the so-called “fire booms,” were nowhere near and that no one had properly marshaled resources to get them there.

We can discuss the reasons for the bizarre assertion by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who should be lucky he will never run for office again, that the bomber was probably just a talk-radio listener driven to mass murder by the passage of Obama’s health-care measure. No matter that his own police department busted an Islamic terror ring aiming to strike the subway system just last summer. In some odd way, by pinning the possibility on, let’s face it, a white guy, Bloomberg was trying to stem panic. A lone attack by a lunatic has no larger meaning except the meaning it can be given by armchair sociologists and the politically expedient. A very nearly successful mass-murder plot arranged in Pakistan and carried out by an American citizen who bought a car for $1,200 cash off a website makes it clear just what kind of casual jeopardy we are in even now, nearly nine years after 9/11, and how fiendishly difficult it can be to prevent small-scale efforts that could bring about enormous pain and suffering and destruction.

Similarly, with the oil spill, though federal government officials say over and over again how dangerous and threatening the results are and may be, they are compulsively insistent that they are on the ball, they are competent, they are doing everything necessary — even though the fault and liability, as they make clear, is with BP, the owner of the rig. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over time, it’s that when one-of-a-kind crises occur, no one in the early stages knows what on earth he’s doing. Feds and state officials and local officials bump into one another; everybody thinks somebody else is in charge of some aspect of fixing the problem; fights break out; the media screams like banshees; and clarity is achieved only after the initial confusion can be resolved.

Instead of acknowledging this truth, government officials believe it is their role to provide reassurance even when they cannot do so. And they’re simply wrong about that. The American people are far more sophisticated about these things than those officials appear to believe, and they can be talked to like adults. That was the lesson, in part, of the immediate aftermath of September 11, when Rudy Giuliani simply said that the “number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately.” He sugar-coated nothing. And that is the truth of crises and crisis management. When it is done well, there should be no sugar-coating. The impulse to sugar-coat is a mark of the conviction among politicians that they are in the same relation to the body politic as a parent is to a child. In our system, a politician is an employee, not a parent. For a rational employer, an employee who gives it to you straight will always be someone you take more seriously than an employee who pretends that everything is fine when everything isn’t.

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Why Doesn’t Obama “Panic” About Iran?

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program'”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program'”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

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Linkage Has Officially Jumped the Shark

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is in talks with Egypt, aimed at making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. This is a little like the drunk searching for his keys under the street lamp because it’s the only place where there is light. If the administration wants to prevent proliferation and/or an arms race in the region, there is only one place on which it needs to focus its attention: Iran.

But since the administration refuses to turn up the heat on the regime, it has gotten nowhere in confronting the actual nuclear threat in the Middle East. So, instead, it is inventing a new threat and dealing with that one. In this case, we’re back to the laughable idea that the United States can extract good behavior from bad regimes by setting an inspiring example of self-abnegation, especially one in which we refuse to show any “favoritism” to our allies.

But perhaps the richest part of this new gambit is the administration’s belief — but of course — that even this far-flung ambition depends on the success of the peace process.

“We’ve made a proposal to them that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before,” one [administration] official reportedly said. Others added that progress would have to be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track before such an agreement could be made.

“We are concerned that the conditions are not right unless all members of the region participate, which would be unlikely unless there is a comprehensive peace plan which is accepted,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as saying.

Perhaps this week we’ll learn that the administration cannot deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico unless Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks commence immediately, or that cap-and-trade is doomed until there is a Palestinian state, or that the election crisis in Iraq, and Sunni-Shia tensions generally, will remain unresolved so long as Jewish housing projects move forward in Jerusalem. Or perhaps what’s really going on here is that the administration is simply inventing forums in which Israel can be isolated and castigated. All Obama is accomplishing through this increasingly bizarre obsession is guaranteeing himself more failure.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is in talks with Egypt, aimed at making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. This is a little like the drunk searching for his keys under the street lamp because it’s the only place where there is light. If the administration wants to prevent proliferation and/or an arms race in the region, there is only one place on which it needs to focus its attention: Iran.

But since the administration refuses to turn up the heat on the regime, it has gotten nowhere in confronting the actual nuclear threat in the Middle East. So, instead, it is inventing a new threat and dealing with that one. In this case, we’re back to the laughable idea that the United States can extract good behavior from bad regimes by setting an inspiring example of self-abnegation, especially one in which we refuse to show any “favoritism” to our allies.

But perhaps the richest part of this new gambit is the administration’s belief — but of course — that even this far-flung ambition depends on the success of the peace process.

“We’ve made a proposal to them that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before,” one [administration] official reportedly said. Others added that progress would have to be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track before such an agreement could be made.

“We are concerned that the conditions are not right unless all members of the region participate, which would be unlikely unless there is a comprehensive peace plan which is accepted,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as saying.

Perhaps this week we’ll learn that the administration cannot deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico unless Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks commence immediately, or that cap-and-trade is doomed until there is a Palestinian state, or that the election crisis in Iraq, and Sunni-Shia tensions generally, will remain unresolved so long as Jewish housing projects move forward in Jerusalem. Or perhaps what’s really going on here is that the administration is simply inventing forums in which Israel can be isolated and castigated. All Obama is accomplishing through this increasingly bizarre obsession is guaranteeing himself more failure.

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Obama Escapes From His Offshore-Drilling Promise

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

Read Less




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