The president’s performance yesterday was an extended pratfall, and headlines like those in the Washington Post –“Obama struggling to show he’s in control of the oil spill”– reinforce the widespread sense that he is in way over his head dealing with a serious crisis requiring more than talking to reluctant Congressmen. As Peggy Noonan notes, this is the third major political disaster in a year-and-a-half, and with the Sestak affair as an example of the political ineptitude of his White House operation, there isn’t much hope things will get better before they get worse. Clinton fired Mack McLarty early in 1994 when similar chaos reigned in the West Wing, but President Obama almost certainly lacks the steel to jettison Emanuel, Axelrod, Jarrett and Gibbs, the Chicago quartet that have left him a near laughingstock among all but the MSM which is too heavily invested in his myth to notice the emperor hasn’t a stitch on. (Interestingly, the man who replaced McLarty in 1994 is across the river in Langley –Leon Panetta. How the DC grown ups would sigh with relief if Panetta was recalled to his old job.) Unable to deal with spending and the massive deficit much less unemployment and the oil spill and recognizing that Obamacare is an albatross, the president is switching to panicky gimmicks like 1200 national guardsmen to the border and a sudden push on DODT. Weeks after his big “win,” and the presidency is rudderless and the president without a plan or much more than his hard left base.
Part of the president’s leadership problem is he seems incapable of just answering a question with brevity and straightforward clarity, a reflection of the genuine confusion engulfing the Administration. His instinct is to filibuster everything, as though words provide a shield, and thus appears completely defensive and ill-prepared, which is why we probably won’t get another press conference for another ten months, even though the very tame White House press corps –with the notable exceptions of Jake Tapper and Major Garrett– let him off very easily yesterday.
I played the questions from the president’s mini-press conference for Newt Gingrich yesterday and asked him to both respond as the president ought to have responded, and when he couldn’t because of the nature of the question, to comment on the president’s response. The audio is below. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
HH: Cut number one, question number one from Jake Tapper.
JT: Governor Jindal obviously had this proposal for a barrier. They say that if that had been approved when they first asked for it, they would have ten miles up already. There are fishermen down there who want to work, who want to help, haven’t been trained, haven’t been told to go do so. There are industry experts who say that they’re surprised that tankers haven’t been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in ’93 outside Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, there’s the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help, and it’s only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico. How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these experts, and all these officials saying that’s not true?
HH: Newt Gingrich?
NG: Well of course, that’s exactly correct, and that’s why if I had been in charge, I would probably be announcing today that we fired the head of the Corps of Engineers, we have fired the secretary of the interior, we have established a command post in New Orleans. We are bringing together every possible asset simultaneously. We’ve ordered the supertankers, brought in exactly as suggested. And we’ve established a very small panel of experts to review every possible new idea on a 24 hour a day basis, following the principle of NASA, when they were told by Apollo 13, Houston, we have a problem, people worked around the clock to solve the problem. No more holidays, no more time off. Get it done now. And when in doubt, have a bias in favor of action.
HH: Next question.
Media: You just said on Day One you recognized the enormity of the situation. Yet here we are, 39, 40 days later, you’re still having to rush more equipment, more boom. There are still areas of the coast unprotected. Why is it taking so long? And did you really act from Day One for a worst case scenario?
HH: New Gingrich?
NG: Well, look, I can’t even answer that question, because his answer is so fundamentally dishonest, and so fundamentally out of touch with reality, there’s no way to deal with it. I mean, it’s an obvious, patent fact that this administration did not recognize how serious this problem was. They allowed the chief of staff of the secretary of the interior to go to the Grand Canyon on a pre-planned trip, a legitimate trip given his job. But nonetheless, they said this is not a big deal, go to the Grand Canyon. Three days later, they had to helicopter him out, because it was beginning to be a bigger problem. Five days after this thing started, the number one Coast Guard person up there in the Gulf said this is really a pretty minor thing, we don’t have to worry about it. You know, this president will be much better served if he would just be honest. The fact is they totally underestimated this. They have totally failed to appreciate what it’s going to take to fix it. They got fixated on trying to stop the well, and forgot that you had all this oil already in the ocean. They have not listened to Governor Jindal, who has been correct every step of the way. And as a result, they’re endangering 40% of America’s wetlands, and they’re endangering one-third of America’s fisheries. And it is a totally unnecessary crisis.
HH: Question number three.
Media: Weeks before BP, you had called for expanded drilling. Do you now regret that decision? And why did you do so knowing what you have described today about the sort of dysfunction in the MMS?
HH: New Gingrich?
NG: Well first of all, the dysfunction in the MMS only exists because we’ve had a complete failure to overhaul the federal bureaucracy, and to overhaul the current system by which red tape and process outweighs achievement. Second, we absolutely have to go to using American energy, because we can’t keep shipping $500 billion dollars out of the country every single year. It’s bad for national security, it’s bad for the American economy. And unlike the current president, my goal would be to have the number one goal being to create new jobs. And the sooner we can get energy prices down, and the sooner we can get a bigger American energy industry, the more jobs we’re going to have. And yes, we have a problem in the Gulf right now, because BP cut corners, did something they shouldn’t have done, and did so without the government regulatory agency doing its job. But the fact is, we have to fix that, and we have to keep moving forward. When we have an airplane crash, we don’t close civil aviation. We learn lessons, we move forward, we build a better system. We need to build a better system in the Gulf. And we need to build a better system in the Atlantic and Pacific. But we need the energy, and we need to quit sending the money overseas.
HH: Cut number four, question number four.
Media. Are you sorry now, do you regret that your team had not done the reforms at the Minerals Management Service that you’ve subsequently called for? And I’m also curious as how it is that you didn’t know about Miss Birnbaum’s resignation/firing?
HH: Newt Gingrich?
NG: (laughing) Well, I think that tells you just how absent he is. It’s one thing to say he doesn’t know what’s going on in the Gulf. It’s another thing to say he doesn’t know what Governor Jindal’s doing in Louisiana. It’s a really weird thing to say he doesn’t even know what’s happening in Washington. I mean, you know, maybe there comes a moment when he ought to play less basketball, and spend more time being president.
HH: Major Garrett is next, question number eight.
MG: Some in your government have said the federal government’s boot is on the neck of BP. Are you comfortable with that imagery, sir? Is your boot on the neck of BP? And can you understand, sir, why some in the Gulf who feel besieged by this oil spill consider that a meaningless, possibly ludicrous metaphor? Secondarily, can you tell the American public, sir, what your White House did or did not offer Congressman Sestak to not enter the Democratic Senatorial primary? And how will you meet your levels of expressed transparency and ethics to convey that answer to satisfy what appear to be bipartisan calls for greater disclosure about that matter?
HH: Newt Gingrich?
NG: Well, first of all, no American politician should ever describe having their boot on anybody’s neck. That’s the language of Benito Mussolini. That’s the language of fascism. This is a country where you’re endowed by your Creator with certain unalienable rights. The people are sovereign, not the politicians. And the idea of any politician using that language, anybody who used that language in my administration would have been fired, since I’m role playing for you. But I think it’s fundamentally, absolutely wrong for Americans to use that kind of language. What they actually should have done is put their heads together and solved the problem. Secondly, on Sestak, he has absolutely no alternative except to have whoever met with Sestak admit in public who they were. I mean, it’s clearly a matter of public record. They have records of who Sestak met with. That person or persons have to under oath testify what they actually said. And the fact is, Sestak has to be challenged to tell us who talked to him. This idea that he’s given us half the story, and now he’s suddenly shy, is just foolish.
I also played for Newt the president’s mind-boggling answer about running out of oil and why we are drilling so far off the coast:
HH: Here’s some more on that subject, the president in the press conference today, cut number six.
BHO: We should be pretty modest in understanding that the easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground. And as we are moving forward, the technology gets more complicated, the oil sources are more remote, and that means that there’s probably going to end up being more risk.
HH: You know, Newt Gingrich, he’s like a Luddite.
NG: Well, of course he’s a Luddite. He’s a left winger. All left wingers tend to be Luddites. The fact is that the technology overall is fairly safe. The fact is that if we had any kind of reasonable commitment to technology, we would have much better cleanup materials. You know, we’re still using many of the techniques we used forty years ago. And as I said at the very beginning of the show, the people, the former Shell employees have been yelling on every television channel they can get on, because 17 years ago, they had a dramatically better solution in the Middle East when this happened, and nobody from BP, and nobody from the federal government is willing to look at it. And so I mean, you have a historic fact that they did in fact use supertankers, they did suck up water and oil, they did separate the two, and they had a dramatic impact in cleaning up the ocean in a way that was very effective. And yet you cannot get either the federal government or BP to look at these kinds of historic examples.
The rest of the transcript is here. The audio of this portion of the program:
To hear Lileks answer his questions adopting the style of the president, you’ll have to join the Hughniverse, where all segments of every show are available on podcast. But the parody is perfect pitch, and where there is perfect pitch parody, there is a huge political meltdown right behind it.