Monday, May 31, 2010

The Turtle and the Peterbilt; Obama gets run over by BP Gulf Spill

The Bible claims that Noah had to deal with forty days and forty nights of rains that covered the whole globe. President Obama is fast approaching the same slice of time with the Deep Water Horizon disaster that threatens to submerge his reelection bid not in water, but in a vicious covering of oil. At least Noah had options, the lord almighty whispered some shipbuilding specifications in his ear and Noah ran with them. The only person whispering in the ear of President Obama is his pollster and the pollster has no exit strategy.

When loyal Democrats like Carville, and Obamacans like the Greek Goddess of the left Arianna Huffington start tossing brickbats at you and comparing you to George W. Bush, it is time to hit the panic button. Problem is Obama does not have a panic button; he is for all intents and purposes part of the Borg collective. The man does not do emotional response. He is no drama Obama. What we are witnessing here is how a cool cat can become a cold fish.

In the last election the electorate voted for the anti-Bush. Other than those pesky policy issues, that is exactly what they got. Bush was an inarticulate mess who could barely construct a sentence. He was the master of malapropism. Obama on the other hand gave great speech. Not since Kennedy has a politician been such a master of the oral arts. Bush was a hyperactive peripatetic, constantly careening around the political landscape and caroming into policy disasters. Obama is slow and steady, gathering data, collecting opinions, considering the options. Bush was all action, making gut decisions and then moving on. Obama is the more pensive scholar, making decisions after calculating the effects out to six digits past the decimal point.

Obama's style could be discerned all the way back to the election of 2008. His style turned what could have been a narrow win into a big victory. When the sub-prime mortgage crisis exploded, Obama was the cool policy professional while John McCain was the one acting as if his hair was on fire. Obama got onboard the politically and economically dubious TARP program, while McCain was crashing about like a five year old who had just guzzled an entire two liter bottle of Jolt Cola. With the selection of Sara Palin, and its Hail Mary pass connotations becoming clear to even lowest of low information voters, McCain's behavior during September of 2008 were the final blow to his candidacy.

If you really want to get a grasp of Obama's personality, read his book. No, seriously, it's all there in the chapter about his becoming born again. The contrast with Bush could not be starker. In his own words Obama lays out a slow, steady unveiling of faith. No sudden Pauline conversion for Obama, no Road to Damascus; perhaps a gradual filling of a cup by the Holy Spirit. The story is important, even if you do not believe it. It reveals a more profound truth than the author would probably like to admit. With Obama nothing, not even coming to Jesus, occurs in moment. Everything with Obama is a slow accretion of events and decisions that gradually achieve a result. The man is an automaton; he is Barry of the Borg.

Thus it is more than a little unfair for Obama's critics to insist that he suddenly show emotion. The man does not do emotion; he does not rush to conclusions; that is why we elected him president almost two years ago. Emotional tirades are just not in the man's make up; at least not public ones. The man has to have some passions after all; he has two lovely daughters to show for it. But the public man is every inch the man his mother made him. This is a man who was raised by an anthropologist. This is a man who imbued moral and political relativism at his mother's knee. This is a man who only measures worth by accomplishment. This is man who sees all ideas as equally valid, and equally as mental playthings. The man has no center, never had one, never will. In all his actions this man behaves as if public emotion, or excess of any type, is bad form. Really people, if you wanted a President who could easily fly into a righteous rage, you should have voted for Hillary Clinton or John McCain. Obama does not do righteous rage; or any kind of rage at all. The man runs away from confrontation the way most folks would run away from a swarm of Africanized bees. Thus, the demand by the public and the punditocracy that Obama start barking at the corporate bad boys of BP is a non-starter.

The wonder is not why Obama is not verbally shredding BP, but it is why we are insisting on this particular shadow play. Exactly what in the short or long run will be accomplished here? Understood, this line of thinking is both cold and cruel; what about the wildlife and the people of the Gulf? Still place the rage to one side and be totally cold and calculating; be Barack Obama for a few moments. The cold, hard and hideous facts are that we are totally screwed here. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon will not be nailed down until August when the relief well is drilled. Oh and for added abuse by Mr. Murphy, NOAA thinks we may be in for a truly rotten hurricane season. Thus, what good will screaming and shouting at BP do? It is not going to get them to drill any faster. It is not going to change the horrific physical facts of how this particular oil well plays out.

Obama cannot void the rules of physics, or the size of the reservoir. He cannot prevent a hurricanes formation, or that hurricane from making a bee line to the relief well. He cannot undo the decades of too-cozy government-oil company relationships. He cannot undo the gutting of rules and regulations, or the gutting of government agencies that were supposed to ride herd on these kinds of thing. Real regulators like NOAA and EPA were cut out of the discussion. Captured and captive regulators like MMS were given the lead. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster is exactly what you get when regulators are literally in bed with the corporations they are supposed to regulate (and snorting meth off the odd toaster with their corporate buddies.) This is a systemic disaster, and the odd photo op with Obama holding hands with Gulf area shrimpers is not going to solve squat.

What do Obama's critics propose we do now that this event will continue on until August? Do we propose that he keeps screaming at BP until that time? Are we going to force him to jump up and down and hold his breath until he turns blue like some five year old denied a cookie? What do we want from Obama? More to the point, when did the President of the United States of America become Oprah? When did he become our grief-councilor-in-chief? No, seriously, where in the Constitution does it require the President to march down to every natural disaster and have some poor slob cry on his shoulder? When the hell did this happen? People, the President's job is not to hand out hankies; it is to fix the damn problem.

At the core of this issue is just that; Obama cannot fix this problem. It really is BP's problem. More to the point it is private industries problem because the public sphere has absolutely no tools to deal with this. It has no such tools by design. Are we going to deal with that issue? Most likely not, it is far too much fun to distract ourselves with trivia, like Obama's failure to rush down to the Gulf and perform the comic operetta that is the Disaster photo op. It is far too much too much fun to play got-you with the question of whether the director of MMS left on her own volition or was booted out the door. Does this niggling fact really matter? The bureaucrat is gone and her department is going to suffer a quick and painful death. You have your heads on the assorted pikes, enjoy.

If there is a complaint about Obama, a complaint that holds water, it has to be about this perverse need for hand-holding and messaging. Like it or not there is an unwritten requirement that our Chief Executive been seen soothing the fevered brows of disaster victims. Not only is there a requirement for this to happen but there is a requirement for it to happen with alacrity. This is what tripped up Obama.

The first unpardonable sin was a failure to trumpet the Administration's efforts on day one. Obama did release the required federal assets early on; he just failed to make a big deal of it. In our media saturated world it is no longer any good to send off the appropriate high level staffer, you have to send him or her off with a brass band and fireworks. Of course when you do such a send off, the media will only complain about how ostentatious you are being. Not only must you send off your staffers with major hoopla, you must micromanage their messaging. People were and are furious because of the confused media messaging of the Administration.

Contradiction, confusion, cross-purpose, consternation, the headlines blare. It is great fodder for the media and political hacks. No one seems to want to deal with the unfortunate fact that BP was stonewalling the government and the government had no real response to that. Other than making us feel warm and fuzzy all over; to what purpose would using the bully pulpit to bully BP serve? People scream to push BP out of the way; push them out of the way and replace them with what? Some make odd references to the military.

Of all the resources of the federal government, there is no branch more ill suited to solving this problem than the military. What is the military supposed to do, blow up the rig? Sorry folks, that mission was already accomplished by BP. The military's job is death and destruction, not capping out-of-control oil wells. Some people were suggesting that the military nuke the well or do the same thing with conventional weapons. It is claimed that the Soviets did such things during the cold war. We are now seriously contemplating using the techniques of the discredited Soviet Union; the very people who created Chernobyl? That idea, dear reader, is the very definition of insanity. The military, specifically the Navy, is not set up to solve these kinds of problems. In point of fact the military, through the use of ordinance, creates these kinds of problems. The only branch of the military that can credibly help, the Coast Guard, is on the scene. Unfortunately the shallow water sailors are starved of the resources they need to solve this problem. Ditto for NOAA and other federal agencies they are blessedly mini-sub and resource free. Most of those capabilities have been outsourced; just like the buses in NOLA during Katrina.

Federal institutions are starved of those resources by design, because in our deregulating ideological insanity, we as a nation decided that corporations like BP would do the right thing. We voted for less government with Ronny Regan, Bush Senior, and Bush the younger (and don't forget Bubba,) and now have found out that drowning the government in the bathtub meant doing that deed with one hundred million gallons of viscous crude oil. Remember, as far as the Elephants are concerned, Obama's feeble and far too corporate friendly response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster is further proof of his secret socialist agenda.

Obama is the furthest thing from the wild-eyed socialist destroyer of democracy. He is exactly the opposite, a bloodless technocrat. He is what we voted for. We wanted a technocrat manager as an antidote to Bush, and that is exactly what we got. We got a man deeply in love with process and decision trees and careful consideration. We got a philosopher-king and policy wonk. We got a slow and steady tortoise who will plod through the decisions with next to no emotion and little drama. Obama marches to the disciplined beat of his own drum. He will not be rushed, he will not be flummoxed, and he will not deviate. He is after all "no drama Obama."

Maybe this is incompetence, this insistence on slow-walking every decision. It is definitely not the fierce urgency of now. But constitutionally, that is due to Obama's constitution, his personality, the slow walk is the default of this administration. Obama will not move until he has a consensus. Again this is the exact opposite of Bush and his cowboy unilateralism. Bush was more than willing to lead the nation in to all kinds of rash directions. Obama appears unwilling to lead us even to the bathroom. It would be nice if the nation could find a happy medium.

Until that time we are stuck with the consensus driven tortoise that is Obama. And because he moves so slowly and deliberately, he will get overtaken and run over by the rush of some events. He is the tortoise, and the rush of events is the oncoming Peterbilt tractor-trailer. It is ugly to look at, but it is the end result of the choice we made in 2008. We had a choice between the slow and steady purposefulness of Obama and the mercurial flitting about of McCain. We chose the tortoise over hare (and the March Hare of Alice in Wonderland at that,) and that is what we have for a leader for the next two years. Look on the bright side; in 2012 we have another chance to totally screw this up again.