HBO’s Bill Maher recently voiced his disappointment in President Obama’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig disaster. “This is where I want a real black president,” the not-so-funny comic said. “I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants.” Filmmaker Spike Lee also voiced his frustration with our unflappable president last week when he said, “If there’s any one time to go off, this is it, because this is a disaster.”
It looks like those who want an angry-man president may get their wish. Giving details about his handling of the crisis, Mr. Obama said that he met with Gulf Coast fishermen to get the views of the people most affected by the disaster so he knows “whose ass to kick.”
There always has been a bullying undercurrent in the Obama administration, marked by the oft-mentioned cliche of “the Chicago style,” which is usually illustrated by some antic by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Whether Rahm’s reputation for strong-arming will be damaged by revelations of juvenile water-gun fights in the White House remains to be seen. The president, however, has never come across as the emotional type. Mr. Obama has cultivated cool detachment, a calm and knowing, almost preachy air of confidence. He was seen as logical and unflappable; his avatar was the Vulcan.
But in the botched response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the president has come across as disengaged and incompetent. The new tough-guy Obama says he would have fired BP CEO Tony Hayward for saying he would “like [his] life back” from dealing with the crisis. This from Mr. Obama, who spends more time on a round of golf than on his second visit to the spill area. In the weeks since the oil-rig explosion, the images from the White House are of the president entertaining celebrities, hosting fundraisers and gala events. Mr. Hayward has been far more engaged with this crisis than Mr. Obama, and unlike the president, he hasn’t been seen dancing with the stars recently.
The “ass kicking” comment follows earlier quips by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who pledged to “keep our boot on [BP’s] neck until the job gets done,” and that if BP didn’t perform, the government would “push them out” and take over. Mr. Salazar later had to admit that his statement was “more of a metaphor,” but it was really false bravado trying to mask the government’s painfully poor performance in this debacle.
Mr. Obama would do well to rethink this new image. If he wants to channel his inner Klingon, he should reserve it for the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and other bullies. Vague threats will not clean up the Gulf any more quickly. Theodore Roosevelt’s saying was “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Mr. Obama’s variation is speaking loudly and carrying a putter.