The media is agog after President Obama told NBC's Today Show on Tuesday that he was speaking to Gulf fisherman "so I know whose ass to kick" regarding the BP (BP) oil spill. He even dared suggest that the company's tongue-tied CEO Tony Hayward "wouldn't be working for me" after his countless thoughtless statements such as "I want my life back."
Judging from the media's reaction, it seems like Obama drew a line in the sand. Anchors giggled as if they were school children at the president's use of a "naughty word." Typical was the reaction of MSNBC's Savannah Guthrie who joked, "if he can say it, so can we." Oh please. Little League coaches say harsher things to encourage their teams to win. I've heard more stirring speeches at weddings.
If anything, Obama needs to work on his trash-talking.
Where's That Other Guy?
The flatness of his rhetoric is in sharp contrast to the stirring words that he uttered during the campaign. Remember the presidential candidate's famous civil rights speech in Philadelphia? Why isn't that guy rallying the effort to clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history? Instead, the American people are seeing "no-drama Obama," a cool, efficient technocrat who responds with a Spock-like logic instead of the passion of Captain Kirk. (Yeah, I'm a nerd.)
Here are some quotes from the interview from the leader of our Starship Enterprise:
"When you watch television or you go down to the Gulf and you see birds covered in oil, and you talk to fishermen who are on the verge of tears, big tough guys. . .their livelihoods are being smothered by this oil, it gets you frustrated."
"I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks [Gulf fisherman] because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."
"We've just got to keep on moving. . . . It's gonna be tough, but we're gonna get through it."
"This is not theater. I don't always have time to perform for the cable shows."
"I would love to vent. [But], my main job is to solve the problem."
Blah, blah, blah. Sure, Obama has uttered some heated words, saying the recent failure of BP's "top kill" strategy to stem the leak was "as enraging as it is heartbreaking." But the cool efficiency that helped him become the first African-American president isn't working for him now. The Obama of the campaign trail needs to appear again because the situation in the Gulf will get much worse. The New York Times reported today that in the process of its latest effort at containing the spill, BP may indeed have increased the flow of escaping oil.
Spreading Impact of a Megadisaster
Remember what happened in the wake of the1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill? It offers some frightening coming attractions for the Gulf region.
"Results of Exxon Valdez oil spill studies indicate that mental health impacts still persisted 10 years post-spill," according to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, an Alaska-based nonprofit. "These impacts included disruption of family structure and unity, family violence, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and psychological impairment."
And the Valdez tragedy happened in a fairly remote and relatively small geographical area. The impact of the BP megadisaster will be felt over thousands of miles and perhaps by millions of people. It's mind-blowing to contemplate.
Let's not forget the animals. After cleaning the oil from birds, scientists release them as far from the spill as possible. They fear that birds will return to their polluted former homes, according to Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation. Much of the damage done by the oil remains invisible since the leak is happening 5,000 feet under the sea. Many of the animals, such as sea turtles, that are found on the surface are already dead.
So, Mister President, figuring out "whose ass to kick" is still way too tepid for the circumstances. It's time to really crank up your energy level. The American people expect nothing less, and now it's up to you to deliver.