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June 16th, 2010
09:46 AM ET

Letter to the President #513: 'A swing and a miss'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/politics/2010/06/15/obama.oval.office.oil.short.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="Foreman: There are times to use presidential power to its utmost and this is one of those." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office about the BP spill, saying he’ll hold the oil giant accountable. Of course, I say about once a week that I’m going to give up on writing these letters, and look where that’s gotten us! Let’s hope his plan goes better.

Dear Mr. President,

71 percent of the citizens of this country say you are being too soft on BP, and I’m not sure you changed any minds with your big Oval Office speech. I hate to say it, and I’m sure you hate to hear it, but there you have it.

While you said you will instruct BP to pay for the damage, I think you failed to make two things clear:

1) What precisely do you consider to be the damage that BP has caused? This is potentially no small bone of contention. Here is one view: Anyone who lost even a dollar of income today, tomorrow, or thirty years down the line as a result of this spill… directly or indirectly… deserves compensation. For example, say a farmer sells okra to a seafood restaurant in Galliano, Louisiana, and suddenly that restaurant goes under because of the BP spill. Under this scenario, that farmer deserves payment for the destruction of his market, because after all, he didn’t spoil the Gulf, did he? On the other hand, BP seems intent on saying only direct loss will be compensated; i.e. the restaurant might be covered, but the farmer won’t. So your failure to make it clear where you stand on this leaves a huge question mark hanging in the air like a clump of Spanish moss on a Live Oak.

2) What leverage are you prepared to use against BP if it tries to stall, obstruct, or flat out avoid their responsibility? You said you would tell them what they must do, but you know as a parent “telling” and “ensuring” someone does what is right can be wildly different propositions. I did not hear even a hint of the consequences you are prepared to deliver. I have cautioned you about empty threats, but for crying out loud, you’ve already had your Attorney General say he is looking into criminal violations; don’t you think an update on that situation would have been a timely shot across the BP bow in this speech? Something along the lines of, “And oh, btw, if BP does not abide by my wishes on this I hope the CEO and his pals look good in orange jumpsuits.”

Don’t get me wrong. You know what an encouraging sort I can be, and I appreciate you focusing on the issue. And frankly, I think it is critical for the credibility of your presidency at this point. But I am truly baffled as to why your team seems so hesitant to firmly grab this tiger by the tail.

Back when you were pushing for the stimulus package, your folks argued that there are times to run up a deficit and this is one of them. Right now, you are facing a corollary. There are times to use presidential power to its utmost and this is one of those. And I’m not trying to bring you down or rain on your speech, but I don’t think you’ve yet shown that you believe that. I wish you would have just called me before you started speaking. We could have gone over all this.

Oh well. On other fronts, I hope all is well with you and the family. I have taken a rare few days off, and they are certainly much needed. Catching up on errands, reading, playing with the dog, and hanging out with my wife and kids. Good times.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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