Obama tries anger in latest attempt to salvage Presidency

President Barack Obama: When all else fails, try anger (AP)

Dogged for being too calm in crisis, President Barack Obama unleashed frustration for all to see Friday, warning BP it had better do right by the people whose lives it has wrecked.

The president’s third trek to the Gulf of Mexico was about the workers with no government titles, the shrimpers and the shopkeepers, the fishermen whose lives have been upended and are running out of people to blame.

Yet Obama’s trip was also about him.

He says it serves little substantive point to go around and yell — that people want results, not a show — but presidents face peril if they do not connect emotionally. As the crisis has dragged on — and his poll ratings have slipped — his words for BP’s leaders have grown sharper.

“I don’t want them nickel-and-diming people down here,” Obama said after his latest briefing on the oil response. He promised his government would look over BP’s shoulder to ensure it was paying out claims.

His visit amounted to one long I’m-on-your-side passage for reeling communities. Along that same line, he invited family members of the 11 workers killed when the BP rig blew up to visit the White House next Thursday. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president had written to each of the families.

As for BP, Obama cast the oil company as a corporate giant interested in protecting its image with TV ads and its shareholders with bountiful dividends.

“I don’t want somebody else bearing the costs of those risks that they took,” Obama said. “I want to make sure that they’re paying for it.”

The president’s visit came as engineers with BP worked to settle a funnel-like cap over the deep-sea leak to try to collect some of the crude now fouling four states. It was not clear how much oil was being captured, and some continued to flow, generating frightening photos of seabirds clogged in the muck.

The oil rig that exploded on April 20 has caused a massive, ongoing spill that is polluting the waters and shores of the Gulf states and consuming the attention of the president. Obama scrapped a trip to Indonesia and Australia to deal with it — no small international sacrifice, especially since he had already resorted to that move once before this year to finish a health care law.

Yet in unleashing his most fiery words yet about BP, Obama underscored his awkward situation: To fix the problem, he is reliant on the same people whose motives he now questions. The government is not equipped to handle the tricky, deepwater effort BP is leading to fix its gushing well.

From his briefing outside New Orleans, Obama bounded on a two-hour-plus motorcade drive to Grand Isle, a small barrier island, to hear from the people. The weather made the trip feel fittingly hard. A driving rain forced him to drop plans to travel by helicopter.

Along the way, he passed this roadside sign: “HELP US NOW!!”

At another spot, the side of a building had been adorned with a portrait of Obama reminiscent of his famous presidential campaign posters. Instead of “hope” or “change,” the words “what now?” were on his forehead.

In casual clothes, Obama went to a bait shop to talk to fishing industry workers about how the disastrous oil spill is affecting their business. The shop owner was there to meet him along with a shrimper, an oysterman, a marina owner and others.

Obama rolled up his sleeves and sat down at a table with the workers, and they all dug into shrimp and corn on the cob. One by one, they told Obama their gut-wrenching stories, which he then related to reporters.

“Terry’s been shrimping out here for 45 years. Right now things are completely shut out,” the president said. “Floyd has oil seeping into these oyster beds.”

The mayor of Grand Isle, David Camardelle, choked up as he told of staying up nights worrying, “looking at the ceiling fan.”

“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Camardelle said. “I’m trying to keep Grand Isle alive.”

Obama later talked with other Grand Isle residents gathered near the bait shop, on the shore near some shrimp boats, promising them: “We’re not going to forget that this is a way of life.”

“Even when I’m not here, I’m thinking about you,” Obama said.

More than six weeks into the disaster, the president’s demeanor has come into question. The calm-in-crisis state that helped him win the presidency has seemed off in tone.

Just ahead of the Gulf visit, he declared himself furious at a situation that “is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years.” He criticized BP for not responding more quickly.

But polls show the public growing more negative toward the president’s own handling of the spill, and he was aiming to demonstrate he was staying on top of the situation Friday — without getting in the way. Obama visited the Gulf region twice in May, and this tour surely will not be his last.

“We’ll keep on coming back until we have dealt with an unprecedented crisis,” Obama promised.

Somewhere between 22 million and 47 million gallons of crude oil has been disgorged into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, according to government estimates.

Obama’s administration on Thursday handed BP a $69 million bill for recovery costs to date — a figure sure to grow in the weeks and months ahead.

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Associated Press writers Ben Feller and Erica Werner contributed to this report from Washington.

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4 Responses to "Obama tries anger in latest attempt to salvage Presidency"

  1. Keith  June 5, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Clearly, a lot of the anger towards Mr. Obama is a direct result of our government’s penchant over the years to set itself up as the sole “provider” and “fixer” of everything. That notion is now coming back home to roost…big time.

    The truth is that there is very little Mr. Obama (or, for that matter, any other government bureaucrat) can do at this late stage on this issue other than to “hold people’s hands” and offer government resources to help mitigate its effects.

    That’s because, with a few notable exceptions, politicians and politically appointed bureaucrats are usually NOT engineers. They simply DO NOT have the engineering expertise in the oil business to apply the required engineering solutions to solve this massively complex engineering problem. Indeed, the last time I checked, Mr. Obama was a lawyer by degree, not an engineer.

    Mr. Obama’s chance to have any real impact on this issue was completely lost LONG before he took office and long before this incident occurred. That’s when “Drill, Baby Drill” without also putting proper safeguards (like a mandatory second relief well for all such exploratory drilling) became US Government policy. As with the banking crisis, our gormless (not to mention hopelessly corrupt) politicians decided to put the “fox” in charge of guarding the “hen house” in the offshore drilling business as well. And we are now seeing the sad results of those decisions.

    Turning that notion around is not going to be easy. Indeed, just like every other issue he faces, there are well-funded (not to mention highly entrenched) constituencies in the US Congress that absolutely WANT all that inherently risky (and largely unregulated) offshore drilling to continue unabated.

    As I’ve said, by comparison, the “dirty” Canadian oil sands keep looking cleaner and cleaner all the time. Fortunately, there’s enough oil up there to keep the US (and a good chunk of the rest of the world) well supplied for several decades to come. Here’s hoping all of our stupid “homeland security” paranoia doesn’t kill THAT “golden goose” as well.

  2. Patick  June 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    What a terrible mess we have gotten ourselves in the Gulf of Mexico! Round up the usual suspects and prosecute them. Let’s parade the unfortunate victims of this circumstance and shout rage at those fat-cats for whatever will stick to them. While we are venting our rage, let’s not forget to acknowledge a fair portion of blame for this circumstance to the group that has had the biggest hand in creating it. I am talking about the powerful Environmental Lobby that is ever-present around the halls of congress. They got what they wanted. They have driven almost all energy exploration off the continental United States, where energy resources are abundant, into fragile offshore waters. Ask yourself: why would any company choose to drill in deep water at a thousand times the cost and hugely more dangerous, compared to doing so on land based sites? The Environmental Lobby is a powerful lobby. Just ask your congressman or congresswoman how much influence the Environmental Lobby has. Most that haven’t been bought-out will tell you the real story. As a congressman once told me; “Almost nothing can get accomplished in congress because of the Environmental Lobby”. Well, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Environmental Lobby has driven common sense solutions into the sea. We have allowed common sense to be pushed aside for radical environmentalism. Most of us believe in a balanced approach to protecting our environment; but we have been out-lobbied. Most radical environmentalists will not see how they are part of the problem. They will see themselves as righteous fighters to preserve all that is pristine. Unintended consequences can and do result from policies that lack common sense. Let’s connect-the-dots! When it comes time to call on those to sit on the hot-seat: let’s don’t forget the Environmental Lobby. They deserve a chance at explaining unintended consequences: after all they had a big hand in it.

    • griff  June 6, 2010 at 11:35 am

      Excellent thoughts on the subject, although I don’t see where any laws were broken. But hey, since Washington is always giving retroactive immunity to corporations for crimes committed, why not pass a law that makes this kind of drilling illegal and then retroactively prosecute the offenders? What’s good for the goose…

      The Environmental Lobby makes it nearly impossible to explore domestically, forcing Big Oil to lobby for more lax restrictions and more leeway in offshore drilling.

      The end result is what we have today. Big Energy makes its money in the artificial scarcity and increased costs of more radical and environmentally hazardous operations. The environmentalists will gain more power in steering energy policy and government-funded (read: taxpayer-funded) alternative and green energy schemes (which is a good overall endeavor, but at this point solar and wind energy are insufficient replacements for oil and coal for mass energy production, and should be funded by the private sector).

      And of course, the politicians benefit from all the lobbyist attention and the grandiose perception of their own importance and worth.

      A side story. I have a friend that does logistics for a company that designs and builds trenching machines for powerline construction as well as powerline construction itself. Most of their work nationwide was large-scale wind farms.

      During the Bush years his company was working all over the United States and had a healthy and growing work force. It was reasonably assumed that once a “green-friendly” president and congress had won the election their work would only increase.

      Since last year they’ve laid off half of their well-paid work force and are struggling to remain afloat. Even domestic alternative energy development has ground to a halt due to the massive bureaucracy and endless wait for government assistance and approval for what should be the realm of private enterprise and good old American capital investment and risk-taking.

  3. Almandine  June 6, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Good thoughts… emotion substituting for competence. Is that not most of the problem with the big O?

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