Crisis exploitation has been President Obama’s chief political strategy from Day 1.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal in November 2008, before the administration had even entered the White House. “Things that we had postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
But what about a crisis that provides no political opportunities?
This administration is brilliant at using a perceived crisis to advance pre-existing political goals. There’s a recession? Expand government, impose new regulations, dole out money to favored groups, and say the universal health care proposal is really a “jobs bill.” People don’t see the need to jump to universal care immediately? Tell stories of individuals confronted with personal health care catastrophes and claim that only the health care bill can solve them. Pass this bill now or the cancer patient gets it!
The administration showed us how to exploit crises: Propose swift action — any action — and structure proposed remedies so their success or failure cannot be measured in real time, then accuse critics of supporting the status quo.
Patience, Obama repeatedly said. Patience. Fixing the enormous mistakes of the Bush years would take time. There would be no quick fix. Don’t look for immediate results, keep gazing into the horizon. Here, I’ll show you how, just tilt your head this way, slightly squint your eyes… there, now hold that position for the next three years.
Then, without warning, a pocket of methane gas exploded on an oil rig roughly 50 miles offshore. Suddenly we had a crisis that demanded a real-time solution, not a promise of rewards to be reaped after the next election.
The president was paralyzed. He could not talk the oil back into the well. He could not stop the leak by convincing Congress to pass a bill that would go into effect four years from now. A president whose sole skill set is confined entirely to the world of politics found himself just about impotent to deal with this emergency.
“The president doesn’t get down here in the middle of this…. I have no idea of why they didn’t seize this thing,” James Carville said on ABC’s Good Morning America on May 26, more than a month after the explosion. “I have no idea of why their attitude was so hands off here.”
That’s the same complaint Gen. Stanley McChrystal made to aides about President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, according to the Rolling Stone piece that got McChrystal fired. ““Here’s the guy who’s going to run his f***ing war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed,” an unidentified aide reportedly said.
Barack Obama being hands-off and disengaged? Who would have thought?
We have a president who in April gave a 17-minute, 2,500-word answer to a woman’s question about taxes in the health care bill, but who cannot come up with an appropriate response to an oil spill. The reason is easy enough to see. One cannot spin an oil spill. One simply has to act.
Obama seems to have internalized an axiom from the Bhagavad Gita: “The wise man never initiates any action.” If nothing else, Obama imagines himself a wise man. There is nothing he can’t give a 17-minute answer to. But his attempts to portray himself as a man of action, necessary for anyone running for president of the United States, have been comical.
Asked during a 2007 South Carolina debate how he’d respond to a terrorist attack, he said, “The first thing we’d have to do is make sure that we’ve got an effective emergency response.” Hillary Clinton, not exactly a paragon of swift-acting machismo, showed him the right answer: “If we are attacked and we can determine who was behind that attack, and if there were nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond.”
When Obama said on Good Morning America that he was looking for an ass to kick, it made him look weaker, not stronger. He just isn’t the ass-kicking sort of guy. So he did what he knows how to do. He gave a speech. It was so awful, even the left panned it. Instead of acting to end the crisis, the president tried to exploit it. A huge oil spill? Use it to hype cap-and-trade! That’s not a response, that’s a sales pitch.
Americans put too much faith in the presidency. The federal government’s CEO is not a superman who can command the resources of the nation to fix any problem that might arise. But it is not unreasonable to expect him to take necessary and proper action to solve certain problems. The president cannot plug a leaking oil well that sits a mile under the Gulf of Mexico. But a good one would have the organizational and managerial skills to quickly set a swift and appropriate federal response in motion. Instead, this president uses the spill as the platform from which to launch a renewed appeal for the same old energy regulations he has been hawking for years.
Obama’s reaction to the Gulf oil spill has been so awful because he is incapable of transitioning from politician to manager. He sees the world only in terms of political opportunities. A crisis that requires action? Sorry, that’s not this president’s bag, baby.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. His Twitter ID is @Drewhampshire.
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