Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Presidential Leadership

He is not going to be dramatic or emotional, just accept it. He is not going to pound his fists on the table or rant and rave. He is not going to suddenly change course in reaction to daily tracking polls or political pundits. Rather, he thinks long term, listens carefully to diverse opinions, gets information first hand, ponders deeply all of the possible outcomes and implications, and he will always apply a thoughtful process to difficult problems.

It is striking that, for someone who is so addicted to his BlackBerry, President Barack Obama seems to be unmoved by nattering commentators and partisan pundits who are ubiquitous in a multi-channel media world. They fling pithy comments, blog pointed barbs, always with their own spin, in hopes of being the one to get a rise out of the president. The fact that he doesn't lose his cool, or he doesn't raise his voice, drives even his most ardent supporters a little crazy. For sure, the president has had missteps, miscalculations and misjudgments. But in the end he believes all that matters are results.

And what a difference a day makes. President Obama was widely criticized by pundits for delivering an address to the nation Monday night that was "lacking in details." Yet this speech, Obama's first from the Oval Office, crisply covered what had happened, what was being done to fix the problem, and what America has to do to end its dependency on foreign oil. It was a very good speech.

Within hours most of those same critics were praising the president for major concessions he had negotiated from BP. The company has agreed to put $20 billion into an escrow account to be used to pay claims and the cleanup associated with the reckless oil spill that is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Further, BP will put aside $100 million to be used for oil workers idled due to the six-month moratorium on deep-water oil drilling ordered by President Obama. BP also announced that it will not pay its shareholders dividends this year. Together these are significant steps by BP that came together as a result of the president's leadership.

Remarkably, now some Republicans are critical of these concessions. Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas actually apologized to BP saying, "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday." Of the escrow fund Barton said, " I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion shakedown." And Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour criticized the fund because he feels the $20 billion would be better invested in more off shore oil drilling and new jobs. Republicans could find themselves backed into a corner if they continue to take positions like these.

Meanwhile the president continues to pressure BP to stop the leak and to focus on the cleanup and claims process. Nothing BP does can bring back the eleven oil workers killed in the initial explosion. Perhaps the oil industry, the regulators and the federal government all can begin to make amends by implementing meaningful regulations for oil drilling and by innovating new sources of energy that would be the beginning of the end of America's dependence on fossil fuels.

President Obama enters the final lap to the 2010 mid term elections with an enormous amount on his plate, both foreign and domestic. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars continue overseas; Iran and North Korea and the threat of nuclear weapons; Israel's security and the Gaza blockade; the growing economic crisis in Europe; America's stubbornly high unemployment rate; the national debt; financial reform; the looming entitlement problem; immigration legislation and security on the border all remain top priorities for the president and his time. Now, because of what may be the greatest man made disaster ever, energy legislation has moved to the head of the line, although there may not be enough time left on the Congressional calender to pass something this year.

The president knows that, just as with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a major crisis can occur at any moment. In such times Americans look to the president for leadership. President Obama has done just about all he can do within his power to take on the Gulf oil spill. No amount of theater and atmospherics would change the reality of the situation. Fixing the problem, compensating all of the victims and cleaning up the mess are the top priorities. So, as we enter the third month of this crisis, President Obama finds himself fully engaged in a crisis that may define the future of his party.

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