What is outrageous about President Obama’s pledge to “kick” the posteriors of the BP officials who have offended him is not its crassness but its utter senselessness. America has long suffered from a decline of elementary decency in public discourse, and Obama’s vulgarity shatters another barrier. But it was as contrived to feign anger and seriousness as was the elder President Bush’s heeding his advisors’ plea to show that he “cares” about the economic hardship endured by those during the early 1990’s recession by actually stating, in a speech, that the point of his speech was: “Message: I Care.” Obama’s remark was just as hollow.
But what does it actually mean that an American president will assault someone’s backside ? Will he strike them physically ? Will he take away their money ? He has already ordered BP not to pay dividends to their shareholders, presumably based on some constitutional provision that only he, adjunct professor of Con Law that he was, knows. Will he have them arrested – and for what ? BP has lost billions, and surely would rather earn money selling oil than waste money cleaning up spills, and watching millions of barrels of oil literally washed away. Will Obama invite BP executives to the White House – or other officials – and chase them around, extending his foot at their derrieres as they race around the Oval Office ? If they kick back in self-defense, can they be prosecuted for assaulting the president ? And once they have had their rear ends spanked, has the president solved the problem ? And is the message that the president wants to send to the public and impressionable youngsters not the choice use of barnyard expressions but the efficacy of settling disputes through violence ?
Actually, no. The message the president wants to send is one that has become increasingly grating and difficult to stomach: whatever happens, anywhere, anytime, is not his fault. His faux fury briefly changes the subject, engenders discussions of propriety and classiness (or the lack thereof), so there is a respite of several days until the question re-surfaces: what exactly has President Obama – keen environmentalist that he is – done to prevent or repair the greatest environmental catastrophe ever to strike American shores ? And the answer is: nothing.
One can fairly ask: what can he do ? What should he have done ? But no such consideration was given to President Bush after the New Orleans levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and inundated that city. He was held to be a heartless incompetent, and led by the shrill liberal media chorus, saw his administration effectively ruined. Bu what could Bush have done ? Primary responsibility initially was in the hands of Louisiana’s Democratic governor and New Orleans’ Democratic Mayor, who at first refused Bush’s offer of the National Guard and then could not deal with the crisis. (The Mayor, in classic political form, was later re-elected despite his ineptitude.) By coincidence, I visited New Orleans less than two months before Katrina, as another hurricane was about to strike that city (it missed), causing a mass exodus that frustrated the population and led many to stay put rather than leave again when Katrina blew in. The levees themselves were long in need of refurbishing but –politics, politics – the local politicians always preferred to spend money on other projects (likely to gain them more votes) than on reinforcing infrastructure. And that is still true today, across the country. People would rather have a new park or community center built than repair an old bridge – until the bridge collapses and they rail against the politicos for their lack of foresight.
What is most disturbing is that, yet again, Obama obsesses on deflecting fault from himself on everything, especially the economy. It is unseemly that the administration – 18 months into its term – still blames today’s economy on President Bush when, by now, Obama’s own policies – the mad spending spree that has added trillions to the national debt – have prolonged the downturn and might be thwarting the recovery. The unpopularity of the health care reform is, similarly, the fault of others – usually the evil Republicans.
It is not only the economy. Others are at fault for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran’s nukes, the price of oil, the environment, the Democratic losses in Congress, and Obama’s shrinking poll numbers. I don’t recall Reagan blaming Carter for the economic disaster he inherited – he changed course and implemented policies that lowered interest rates and inflation. I don’t recall Eisenhower blaming Truman for the mess he inherited in Korea (of course, I wasn’t born yet). I don’t recall Bush blaming Clinton for letting Osama bin Laden escape, and leaving the country ill-prepared for the Arab terror of 9/11. Worse than unseemly, it evinces the exact opposite of leadership. The blame game is a flight from personal responsibility that is unbecoming and un-presidential, and that – at a certain point long past – even supporters must see through.
People always seek scapegoats, and Jews are certainly and painfully familiar with that sad dynamic. But sometimes things just happen; accidents that could not be anticipated occur and wreak great havoc. The criminal investigation is a diversion and waste of time and energy, another play in the blame game. Sure, they may find some statute predicated on recklessness (“should have known…”) for which the government can prosecute and look like heroes when they collect fines. But if “they” should have known, should the President also have known ? Oil spills are exceedingly rare. But the devastation caused is not eased by a woeful attempt to castigate others, as if the country’s Chief Executive has little influence. He has influence, but this is a good reminder that even the president is not all-powerful.
The president does have a bully pulpit. A president takes responsibility – the country’s leading adult. The buck stops with him. If Obama has a better idea than the BP engineers, then offer it. To date, Obama’s response to the oil rig disaster has been shrill talk, firing the head (some poor Jewish woman) of the Minerals Management Agency, making speeches, holding photo ops, looking engaged – but not doing anything. If his economic policies are prolonging unemployment, then change them. If his foreign policy has left America weaker – and less popular across the globe – than under President Bush, then re-evaluate. Shift gears. Forget Bush, Mr. President. You own these problems now. Do something, or step aside. Don’t play the race card that your acolytes keep at the top of their deck, and don’t run against Bush this November or in 2012. It won’t work, and the country cannot wait.
Based on past experience, that plea is likely to go unmet. But, even so, Obama would do well to leave people’s posteriors where they belong, and unkicked.