[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/27/art.oilglove.getty.jpg width=300 height=169]Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama is taking a lot of flack over the Gulf oil spill. My advice? Take this letter and call me this morning.
Dear Mr. President,
I hope the effort to close the well is working, and if it is working, I pray that it will keep doing so. Still, I had trouble sleeping last night. I live just beyond the DC limits, but even there I could hear the fiddling coming from your place. You know that I always try to be encouraging, but your team has made it look for days as if the spill is merely an inconvenient truth to borrow a phrase from a previous denizen of DC land.
So here are three things I think you might consider if it wants to reverse that impression.
1) TAKE CHARGE – Establish an immediate, well-publicized, and actual command center on the Gulf; a “White House South” where Vice President Biden would be dispatched to preside over all operations in a highly visible show of commitment. (Honestly, it’s not like he’s too busy.) Once a day, have him hop a helicopter to a trouble spot, look it over, talk to the experts and locals, and make sure they are getting the tools they need. Nothing drives regular citizens crazier in a time of crisis than a distant power in DC saying, “Oh yes, we’ve heard the latest idea/proposal/question, and we’re just routing it through the proper channels. I’m sure we’ll have an answer in a couple of days.” There is only one channel now. It shows oil spewing 24/7. An honest command center which has the power to call the shots, immediately implement your executive orders, and a single responsible federal representative giving twice a day updates on all that is happening would help ease the growing fear that you’re simply not yet really getting your hands dirty. And make no mistake, that impression is political poison. You went around for months talking about the gradual and relatively distant impact of rising health care costs but you have yet to publically express a similar sense of urgency about what is happening in the Gulf. Or at least you’re not doing it nearly as much. With a strong enough presence, you won’t have to officially take over the entire operation (which you seem reticent to do) but you can at least show a much more robust engagement. You think it’s just symbolism? Yeah, well, President Bush flying over Katrina damage and not even touching down was pretty symbolic too.
2) FIX WHAT CAN BE FIXED- Your team says you do not have the expertise to address the leak itself, and must leave that up to BP. Even if that is the case, then at least grow much more aggressive about dealing with the results of the spill. Despite suggestions just a couple of weeks ago that the oil would be corralled on the surface and contained, now we are seeing precious little activity beyond the press conferences. We are hearing by the hour from local officials, fishermen, tourists, and residents about the shortage of resources deployed across the wetlands and beaches. This is a no brainer. You need to make it overwhelmingly clear to every agency that this is a full-on national emergency that is threatening one of the world’s greatest fisheries, the economic recovery, and…oh by the way…your party’s chances in the election this fall. You had no hesitation about spending billions of dollars in hopes of stimulating the economy. It would not be beyond the pale at this point to redirect some of that spending to families on the Gulf; imagine the impact and effectiveness of replacing the lost wages of fishing families by paying them to spread oil boom, build sand barriers, and clean up the oil on an on-going basis until this crisis is past. The shore gets protected. Desperate families get help. The economy gets stimulated. And a precious natural and economic resource might be saved from years of collapse which, trust me, could affect the entire country.
3) FOCUS ON RIGHT NOW- You political types have a terrible habit: When you misjudge a situation at first blush (even quite honestly,) it seems like you will often fiercely defend that misjudgment for weeks rather than admit a mistake, or that conditions changed and you did not take sufficient notice. I’ll grant that at first, the spill looked like a small, untimely blow to your plans for more offshore drilling at worst; and at best, like a convenient back door mistake which might allow you to criticize big business again when necessary. Turns out it was neither. The spill, hour by hour, is threatening to make an all out mockery of your offshore oil ambitions by suggesting your team never seriously considered the potential downside. Practically and politically this situation demands focus on the immediate: If the oil is not stopped; if it is not contained and collected on the surface; if the beaches and marshes are not protected, every single person in this country is going to pay a price. Or rather, I should say, every person who likes going to the beach, driving a car, eating seafood, seeing songbirds, or believing that we are a great nation capable of handling problems. You need to forget about the mistakes so far, ignore the consequences of failure in the future, and work in the present as if it is all that matters…because right now it is.
On a personal level, there is no reason for anyone to doubt your concern for the Gulf. But then, on those same terms, there was no reason to doubt that President Bush was concerned after Katrina either. But since voters don’t know you personally, they have to judge you by your actions.
All I’m saying is, if your heart and head are in the right place, look up: See that oil spreading across the Rose Garden, soaking into the Oval Office rug, and staining the Presidential Seal? If you don’t take some big steps fast you may find your own White House harder to clean up than the marshes and beaches all along our battered Gulf coast.
I’m not trying to be too tough, or unfair. I’m just saying…well, give me a call and let’s talk it over.
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