Program Note: Be sure to watch Tom Foreman tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.
Tom Foreman | BIO
You know why the faces on Mount Rushmore are four presidents instead of the Marx Brothers? Because symbolism matters. As much as we have a sense of humor in this nation (hey, we bought LaToya Jackson albums) we understand the enduring importance of leadership, especially when it comes to carving mountains into giant, granite heads.
So you know why the Obama Administration was in such hot water this week? Because the White House team members seem to have ignored the symbolic importance of everything they do during a crisis. As the Gulf oil spill spun out of control, they appeared for weeks to be mildly interested at best, and slightly miffed with the inconvenience of it all at worst. Like a Greek chorus, a variety of officials repeated the mantra, “We were there from day one!” as if those words alone would suffice.
But it was the shocking lack of there-ness on days two, three, four, and more that burned them. And it didn’t help that on the very day the men killed in the explosion were being memorialized; President Obama was attending a Democratic fundraiser. Talk about symbolism. The apparent disregard for the tragedy and the puddles of oil gathering at the president’s feet were noticed even by admirers in his own party, some of whom were by mid-week wondering openly why the White House did not respond earlier and more robustly.
No one with any weight in DC is disputing that this is BP’s fault, and the money to pay for it should come out of BP’s piggybank. Many have even accepted the Administration’s argument that the feds quite simply do not have the expertise they would need to take over the operation wholesale. What has troubled them, however, has been the symbolism.
Presidents, although they don’t like to admit it, spend a lot of time being primarily symbolic. When they throw out the first pitch, when they visit a closed factory, when they greet returning soldiers, when they hold town hall meetings to discuss health care; that’s all about symbolism. When President Bush flew over the wreckage of Katrina and just kept flying that was symbolic. And though the White House team is scrambling now to show their concern, those weeks of apparently lackluster involvement by President Obama were symbolic, too.
See Tom Foreman's column in Metro here.
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