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During oil spill crisis, do we need Obama to play Angry Daddy?

The presidency is not a play in two acts. The disaster in the Gulf is not six characters in search of a leader. So why the coverage of President Obama and the oil spill as theater criticism?

Is he angry? Is he enraged? Has he shown it? Is there a vein bulging in his neck?

At the White House press briefing Tuesday, the debate deteriorated into linguistic parsing of rage versus frustration -- and while reporters started it, the White House was foolish enough to play along.

CBS' Chip Reid: "Frustration and rage are very different emotions, though. I haven't -- have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs: "I've seen rage from him, Chip. I have. ... He has been in a whole bunch of different meetings -- clenched jaw -- even in the midst of these briefings, saying everything has to be done. I think this was an anecdote shared last week, to 'plug the damn hole.'"

I'm not sure whether it counts as frustration or rage, but I don't give a damn about the tightness of the president's jaw. Strategically leaked anecdotes about presidential eruptions are not reassuring -- they are insulting to the intelligence of Americans who understand that they are being clumsily spun.

What I care about, and what I suspect most Americans care about, is, in ascending order of importance: How did this happen, and did a failure of government regulation contribute to the disaster? How can we make certain it will never happen again? And, most importantly, how can we plug the damn hole?

Of course qualities of presidential leadership and temperament matter, never more than in a crisis. Technocratic competence is necessary but not sufficient. Bill Clinton's ability to feel your pain was a crucial skill; his empathetic response to the Oklahoma City bombing was a signal moment of his presidency. Likewise, George W. Bush rose to the tragic occasion in the days after 9/11. It's a necessary, if somewhat silly, part of the job to have, as quickly as possible, the Official Presidential Visit to the disaster site, with the chief executive looking appropriately grim.

To critics of the president's attendance at the White House event for Paul McCartney: what was he supposed to do -- huddle in the Oval Office with Energy Secretary (Did we mention he has a Nobel Prize in physics?) Steven Chu and sketch out a solution on the back of a napkin embossed with the presidential seal? This is real life, not Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius.

Bush would not have been hammered for his New Orleans fly-by if Brownie had been doing a better job on the ground -- and if the president and other administration officials had not denied the obvious disaster unfolding on national television. Obama would not be taking so much grief now if any of the efforts to stop the spill had worked. He could be as Spock-like as he wanted if "junk shot" or "top kill" or whatever were doing the trick.

Nothing has worked, but it's not at all clear to me that this reflects any lack of attention or action on the part of the administration. The failure on the president's part has been one of Method acting, not, as far as I can tell, of substantive performance. Obama has not adequately inhabited the character of Angry Daddy.

Actually, I thought we liked Obama-as-Spock -- logical, controlled, unruffled in the face of the economic meltdown. Whatever happened to all that talk about the president's first-class temperament? Personally, I prefer my presidents without anger management issues, and I'll take my emoting at the movies.

The White House, I fear, is taking the wrong lesson from the barrage of criticism. They are rushing Obama back to the gulf for another visit Friday. To what end? Because the president's presence will help anyone in the gulf -- or because it will help the president? The real test is in the doing, not the showy symbolism.

By Ruth Marcus  | June 3, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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A situation like this does not call for anger. After all, the law limits the consequences, that is the financial damages. Further, it is only the 'corporations' and not individuals that are liable.

Moreover, the policy has been to rely on industry to police itself and clean up after itself. Even if the policy is reversed, many years will be required before the reliance on industry is reduced (assuming that it can be).

So, since we have chosen to rely on industry, we have to be nice to industry. It's something along the lines of biting the hand that feeds you, etc.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | June 3, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Marcus, It would be sufficient if this president acted "PRESIDENTIAL", but, of course, you wouldn't understand.


Posted by: barrysal | June 3, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I vote for barrysal to be our next President. I am sure he can relate to the messiah comment and the president comment. After all, he is a well-spoken, erudite commenter. That's the kind of guy I'm gonna vote for next!!

Posted by: efaden1 | June 3, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Chip Reid's questions were an embarassment to himself, his network, and the White House Press Corp. The MSM has made us a nation addicted to contrived reality-show drama and controversy. The press demands a narrative combination of the same quality as professional wrestling tabloid reporting. Perhaps, when Malia asked her father if the "hole had been plugged", she was referring to the White House press corp.

Posted by: BBear1 | June 3, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

"During oil spill crisis, do we need Obama to play Angry Daddy?"

No, but we needed him and Ken Salazar to clean up the mess at MMS upon taking office. That scandal broke in fall 2008--out of the Denver office in Salazar's home state of Colorado. MMS should have been dismantled BEFORE disaster struck, not after.

Anyone recall how just hours after the inauguration of President Obama, Rahm Emamnuel issued a cease-and-desist memo to all agency heads regarding the last-minute rulemaking put in place by the Bush Admin just as they were leaving office (the so-called midnight regulations)? Funny thing...many of the Bush era rules, regs and policies were left intact, including the policy to expand offshore drilling, which President Obama reiterated just weeks before the BP disaster.

No, we don't need Obama to be an angry daddy. We needed him to deliver the change he promised. But for anyone who has spent time in Washington, DC, we know this truth to be self-evident: only the players change; the game remains the same.

Posted by: pepperjade | June 3, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Obama -- at some point -- is going to have to show some leadership. He is losing folks who put him in office on a daily basis. WE DID NOT ELECT A DICTATOR TO HAVE TEMPER TANTRUMS AND TRY TO FIX ELECTIONS! We did elect someone who said they would be guided by integrity and ethics. We thought we were electing a leader -- but too often it appears that we elected a teleprompter and, a nice looking suit! Feigning anger is a high school play stunt!

Posted by: wheeljc | June 3, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

"Cheap" is the operative word here. This coming from a "Beatle?" It just shows that no amount of money can buy CLASS. Of course, he fits right in with this White House. Cheap, classless... I could copy all of the other synonyms from my thesaurus but... November cannot come soon enough!

Posted by: georges2 | June 3, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

repuglitards have no sense of shame

Paul McCartney made george bush the butt of a joke

now, Paul McCartney is the war criminal ???

after 8 years of george bush, these idiots are still trying to defend george bush

repuglitards have no sense of morality, no sense of decency, and no self awareness

friends don't let friends vote repuglitarded

Posted by: nada85484 | June 3, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

I remember well the speech when President Carter called on Americans to come together in shared sacrifice and vision to end our dependence on foreign oil, develop clean, new sources of energy, and regain control of our destiny. He spoke truth to both power and the people, a gift that comes only rarely in public discourse. The response was immediate and calls of support came into the White House switchboard. Only later did the label "Malaise" seep into public discourse through his critics. How dare he ask that we limit our speed to 55 mph, wear sweaters in the winter and live with slightly warmer buildings in the summer to save energy while we developed new, clean sources of power, sources that could never be subject to boycott, insecurity in a far away place, pollute our air, land, and water, and would never run out. Thirty years on and several wars later, here we are, still addicted to energy sources from the 19th century (oil) and antiquity (coal). We claim to be an exceptional country, blessed with a political system that is a light for the world. I remember John Kennedy. I remember his 'Profiles in Courage'. Where are the Americans stepping up to say, "We are ready, what can we do for our country?"

Posted by: stevenasmith | June 3, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

No we don't want him to play at all!
That's the problem. The image of him sitting listening to Sir Paul while the Gulf dies is just plain wrong.

Posted by: miriamac2001 | June 4, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

The image of Obama of a daddy says it all: we need a FATHER. Daddy kisses the boo boos and a father sets the curfew, and sticks to it.

And who are you kidding with the "unruffled in the face of the economic meltdown"?? He spent all our money for the next 2 generations, how is that in any way thoughful?

YOU elected this joker based entirely on your emotions - there was NO EXPERIENCE to draw upon- and now you see that wishful, hopeful thinking does not a president make.

Posted by: dcjayhawk2 | June 4, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Ruth! You bad girl! Are you not taking your kool-aid!

Posted by: MikeMcLamara | June 4, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Let the BP engineers and their consultants do their job without interference.

That's the most constructive thing President Obama -- or you, for that matter -- can do about the Gulf oil spill right now.

Thank you.

Posted by: roblimo | June 4, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Some have said recently that they voted for a man who they thought was a leader with ethics and integrity. I've asked those, who are now disappointed by him, on what basis did you believe that this man had any of those qualities? Was it the fact that in 1996 he pulled Chicago style dirty politics to invalidate voting petition signatures of the other 3 challengers? Did that convince people of his integrity? Or was it the misrepresentation of his previous accomplishments? (constitutional and/or law professor when he was just an adjunct professor; lecturer) His character and ability has been in question since the campaign but the MSM, including this rag, did everything it could to hide info, discredit those attempting to report the truth, or just flat out lied about who oBOWma was. So all I can say when faced with this many people questioning his leadership is, "What did you expect?!"; then advise them to pay attention to who the candidate really is and not project their own desires and wishes on to that candidate. Candidate ObaMao was an empty suit ready to be filled with the hopes and desires of each individual voter. Your 'hope' for the future is different than your neighbors. The 'change' you wanted to see is different than any one else's. Did candidate Obama ever define 'hope & change'? No, he left it to the gullible to fill in that important aspect. "In a Democracy, the people get the government they deserve." Alexis de Tocqueville

Posted by: KrlyQ67 | June 4, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

This entire question of whether President Obama should be running around with his hair on fire over this is just another indicator of just how silly and trivial the media has become in desperately searching for some sort of angle in blaming this all on him and ingratiating themselves with the Becks, Palins, Limbaughs and other sideshow carny clowns that drive mainstream media coverage of this administration.

A great many of us out here are just plain sick of all of these sludgy characters who blame this President everytime they catch a whiff of flatulence in the air. I have to say that it seems that America has become the dumb capital of the entire planet. If you want to come to a place where morons and imbeciles are celebrated, Well America is for you.

Posted by: jaxas70 | June 4, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Krlyq67, you are just another miserable, pi$$y, bilesopping, smelly little bug filled with a personal animus for Obama. To listen to stinking, hateful little piglets like you, one would think Obama is Osama instead of Obama.

Look. Barack Obama is President of the United States and despite all of this gall dripping, hate filled crap coming from morons like you, he still has high personal approval ratings. Most Americans do not seem him in the same malevolent, despicable manner you do. I suggest you quickly find a capable psychaitrist and do something about this derangement syndrome that afflicts you.

Posted by: jaxas70 | June 4, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

The Obama haters on this blog offer nothing but the same contemptible, empty rhetoric. They offer not one single substantive solution to any of our problems.

Look. This hideous little collection of roaches care nothing about our country, our government or how to solve any of the problems we face. All they care about is their petty little hatreds and prejudices.

Like the tired, desperate old men they revere, their time is nearly up on this stage. They know it. And that is precisely what is driving them insane. A new generation is rising in America that the media in its pathetic frenzy for ratings and profits ignores. The Millenials are coming. You won't hear them, but trust me. They are coming. And they quietly scoff at all of this silliness they see in the media.

And they will prevail. Why? Because unlike this ridiculous tea party crowd they are optimistic about our future. They don't strut around our streets and town halls with their neck veins bulging. And on the quiet they laugh at the silly antics of the Tea Party and the old men in Congress who pander to them sucking after their loathesome fat hineys. They righteously snort in derision at some of the old, ridiculous 18th century slogans and the gnawing prejudices that the Tea Party clings to.

They are far wiser than their elders. They know that Marx is dead. But so is Adam Smith. And so is Ronald Reagan. And they have no desire to return to these old, obsolete culture wars.

Make way old fahts! The Millenials are coming.

Posted by: jaxas70 | June 4, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Jaxas, you should take your own advice because you just poved my point! You supported nothing you said. They were empty platitudes based on your own strong emotion of the situation! You want us to believe that "They are far wiser than their elders."; based on what? Your misunderstanding of history and what works and doesn't work has led you to cling to a utopian fantasy. The utopia you have in your mind can be brought about by Obama because his views are in direct opposition of those you called 'old fahts', but show me where any of these ideas or policies have worked and brought prosperity to those citizens. Your support of this president comes from your own feelings and beliefs, not from any substance. You may not like the 2 factual statements I laid out about Obama, but there they are. Refute the substance, or keep your vile ignorance to yourself.

Posted by: KrlyQ67 | June 4, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Ruth. Great post.

The haters would bash Obama no matter what he did. If he cured cancer they'd say he was a COMMUNIST! and a SOCIALIST! who hated doctors and was ruining MD's lively hoods.

Posted by: joyousMinn | June 4, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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