Maureen Dowd : Gusher Gone Wild Seems Mere Distraction For Academic Obama

Monday, May 31, 2010

President Spock’s behavior is illogical.  Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.  “This president needs to tell BP, ’I’m your daddy,’ “ scolded James Carville, a New Orleans resident, as he called Barack Obama’s response to Louisiana’s new watery heartbreak “lackadaisical.”…..Obama invented himself against all odds and repeated parental abandonment, and he worked hard to regiment his emotions.  But now that can come across as imperviousness and inflexibility.  He wants to run the agenda; he doesn’t want the agenda to run him.  Once you become president, though, there’s no way to predict what your crises will be.  F.D.R. achieved greatness not by means of imposing his temperament and intellect on the world but by reacting to what the world threw at him.

For five weeks, it looked as though Obama considered the gushing that became the worst oil spill in U.S. history a distraction, like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a law seminar he was teaching.  He’ll deal with it, but he’s annoyed because it’s not on his syllabus.  Even if Obama doesn’t watch “Treme” on HBO, it’s strange that he would not have a more spontaneous emotional response to another horrendous hit for Louisiana, with residents and lawmakers crying on the news and dead pelicans washing up on shore. But then, he didn’t make his first-ever visit to New Orleans until nearly a year after Katrina hit.  “I never had occasion to be here,” he told The Times’s Jeff Zeleny, then at The Chicago Tribune.

Just as President Clinton once protested to reporters that he was still “relevant,” President Obama had to protest to reporters last week that he has feelings.  He seemed to tune out a bit after the exhausting battle over health care, with the air of someone who says to himself: “Oh, man, that was a heavy lift.  I’m taking a break.”  He’s spending the holiday weekend in Chicago when he should be commemorating Memorial Day here with the families of troops killed in battle and with veterans at Arlington Cemetery.  Republican senators who had a contentious lunch with the president last week described him as whiny, thin-skinned and in over his head, and there was extreme Democratic angst at the White House’s dilatory and deferential attitude on the spill.  Even more than with the greedy financiers and arrogant carmakers, it was important to offend and slap back the deceptive malefactors at BP.  Obama and top aides who believe in his divinity make a mistake to dismiss complaints of his aloofness as Washington white noise.  He treats the press as a nuisance rather than examining his own inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.  “The media may get tired of the story, but we will not,” he told Gulf Coast residents when he visited on Friday.  Actually, if it weren’t for the media, the president would probably never have woken up from his torpor and flown down there.  Instead of getting Bill Clinton to offer Joe Sestak a job, Obama should be offering Clinton one.  Bill would certainly know how to gush at a gusher gone haywire.  Let him resume a cameo role as Feeler in Chief.  The post is open.

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