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June 15th, 2010
09:23 AM ET

Letter to the President #512: 'Is your marlinspike ready?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

The problems you are facing on the Gulf, at this point, have grown into a very large and nasty knot to be sure.  The general public perception appears to be that BP is stonewalling, your administration is stumbling, and too often the right hand does not know what the left is doing.

The problems you are facing on the Gulf, at this point, have grown into a very large and nasty knot to be sure. The general public perception appears to be that BP is stonewalling, your administration is stumbling, and too often the right hand does not know what the left is doing.

Reporter's Note: President Obama is planning a big speech to America tonight about the Gulf oil spill, which will not doubt contain some strongly worded suggestions. Meanwhile, I continue writing a letter each day to the most famous resident of Pennsylvania Avenue offering my suggestions for running the country, which are not strongly worded, and in all fairness, are barely even thought out some days. Oh well, you get what you pay for, eh?

Dear Mr. President,

The graduation was a great success, thanks so much for asking, which I am sure you would have done had we spoken. The elder daughter’s speech was well-received, the diploma duly awarded, and the next step in her young life is now underway… huzzah! It was inspiring, as graduations so often can be; a nice reminder of the optimism which all of us can stand to keep in mind as we saunter through life, too often growing jaded and cynical along the way. Speaking of which: How is it looking with your big oil spill speech for tonight?

I’m sure you are going over all the phrases, parsing the words, and that the address will be pretty compelling. But I think you might benefit from having a prop nearby this time; not so much for us in the audience, but for your own inspiration. Have you every heard of a marlinspike?

A marlinspike is a sharp metal tool, kind of like a long nail, and it is used by sailors when they are splicing ropes. By fitting the point into tightly swollen joints, they can pry apart individual strands, thereby untying some of the most unyielding knots. You can imagine how valuable such a thing might be, as in “Arggh, Long John hand me that marlinspike so’s I can mend that main line, or ye’ll be walkin’ the plank.”

The problems you are facing on the Gulf, at this point, have grown into a very large and nasty knot to be sure. The general public perception appears to be that BP is stonewalling, your administration is stumbling, and too often the right hand does not know what the left is doing. As a result, animals are dying, small family businesses are folding, your White House is looking inept, and the oil just keeps pouring.

So why the marlinspike? The strength of this tool lies in two things: a sharp attack, and leverage. If you want the BP crowd to take you seriously, you must make sure that you have focused the power of the presidency and all its attendant offices into a clear, sharp course of action that can penetrate any shell of resistance. When you talk about the consequences should the Gulf recovery effort continue to flounder, you must make them pointed. No one should be saying afterward, “Uh…what did he say?”

Secondly, once you have driven that hardened point into this problem, apply pressure. It must be clear that you expect progress every moment of every day; and absent that, you will use all the legal, regulatory, and political power of your office to force it.

That’s how a marlinspike works on rope, and I think those principles could serve you and the folks on the Gulf well, too. Anyway, good luck with the talk. Call if you want to go over any of it.

And by the way, did I ever say congratulations on the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup? Well deserved! My dad, if he were still around, would be delighted.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Alex Valiao (Fresh Meadows, NY)

    Good morning. You are a marlinspike yourself. I am learning each day but somehow my marlinspike is not used for untying knots but for punching a hole on bad people's foot. Well...if that makes any sense. 🙂 Keep on writing.

    June 15, 2010 at 9:46 am |