Tuesday, June 1, 2010


A picture is worth a thousand words. Reflect for a moment on the image of a rain drenched President Barack Obama holding an umbrella during a driving rainstorm while guiding Illinois Memorial Day attendees to head for cover. When it rains it pours.

Of course, had the President Obama decided to visit Arlington National cemetery he would have been bathed in sunlight and avoided any criticism. Never mind that other presidents have chosen not to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. The point is the president left himself vulnerable to attack from detractors who have a political or personal interest by furthering negative perceptions of the president.

This is playing itself out on the Gulf Coast too, where an oil gusher continues to spew crude into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's deep-water drill explosion, which took 11 lives, may very well become the subject of a criminal investigation. It appears that short cuts were taken, less expensive methods were implemented and BP ignored regulations. This is a recurring pattern for BP, the most fined petroleum company ever.

From the beginning, the U.S. government has been managing BP's efforts to stop the leak. It appears that BP is way over its head as every approach has so far failed. The U.S. government does not have the equipment or expertise needed to stop the leak, which emanates from a well nearly one mile under the sea. The government is left to focusing on containing the spill and beginning the clean up.

Nonetheless, the president and the White House are coming under increased attack from all sides for their handling of the disaster. Yes the president should not have relied on the BP estimates of leaking oil; after all they want to minimize the damage out of business motivations. Yes the president could have spent more time on the Gulf Coast rather than head off for a family holiday in Chicago. Yes the president could have sent in General Colin Powell and several thousand troops in a massive show of force. But none of these steps would have stopped the leak.

The primary criticisms of the president have to do with "optics." He "looks like" he isn't passionate. He "looks like" he isn't engaged. So a narrative is beginning to be promulgated among conservative critics that the president is not competent. But this is like calling the Los Angeles Lakers losers because they get out scored in the first quarter.

The president got a stimulus package passed and it has been credited by most economists as stemming the loss of U.S jobs. The president supported further bailouts to the ailing banks that are now stabilized and have repaid much of the taxpayer loans with interest. The president stood behind the American auto industry to the tune of billions of dollars and now the car companies are well on the road to recovery, which preserves thousands of jobs.

Healthcare reform expended a lot of energy and political good will, but now 31 million more Americans have health care, no one can be eliminated from coverage due to a prior condition, and the spiraling costs of health care now have more controls. The president and Congress are nearing completion of financial reform, which will be an important first step to avoiding another devastating financial collapse. The president appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, and he will soon get Congressional approval for his second court appointment.

Sadly the 1,000th American soldier died in Afghanistan. Soon this will be America's longest war. The president, following the recommendations of his military, authorized a huge buildup to give our mission the best chance of success. Had he pulled out he would have faced withering criticism from the right and center. There are now more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where American troops are being drawn down.

The president is working hard with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deal with the North Koreans, a nuclear power, through diplomatic channels using tough sanctions. The American government outed North Korea for its sinking of a South Korean vessel. Meanwhile, President Obama is trying to rally all major powers to crack down on Iran's nuclear program. A military attack on these installations would likely result is heavy civilian casualties and turn most of the population against America. Diplomacy must be allowed to run its course.

This is a particularly complex and sensitive region. Israel's attack on a flotilla of relief ships intended to break the blockade on Gaza instantly led to international condemnation. Israel's General Counsel said that terrorists on one of the ships attacked Israeli commandos who were acting within international law in boarding the ship. The United States has now drawn fire because it has supported Israel. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of anti-Israeli protestors took to the streets in many European and Middle Eastern cities. President Obama will have to walk a fine line as more facts from this incident become known.

With growing deficits, slow economic recovery, a constant threat of terrorism and the imminent need for immigration reform, there are plenty more challenges for the Obama administration. For Republicans it may seem productive to turn political disagreements and past battles lost into questions of this president's competency. The president's record of achievement will speak for itself. In the end, however, all Republicans will do is remind American voters who got us into this mess in the first place.

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