Barack Obama doesn’t have the extraordinary political instincts that his predecessors–presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan– had. At least, he hasn’t honed them yet. He is, dare I say, too focused on solving problems and not focused enough on looking like he’s solving problems. He doesn’t understand that an integral part of solving problems is garnering public support for his solutions, or that an integral part of garnering public support is the superficial stuff: the photo-ops, the meet-and-greets with the citizens, or the burgers from the local diners.
He thrived off of it during the campaign; it kept him going. He kissed every baby, shook every hand, walked through every factory, and asked all the right questions. But the box in which he packed that politic sense of what it means to be a public official got lost during the move from Chicago to Washington. In the wake of low approval ratings and deteriorating public opinion of his policies, it seems that Obama and his advisors would have had to go out of their way not to hop onto Air Force One, and get down to the south ASAP. James Carville said last week, Obama needs to “Get down here and take control…we’re about to die.”
In a case like this, where POTUS isn’t realistically in a position to do very much, the best thing he can do is look like he’s doing something. This is a wasted opportunity. He should have immediately been in small towns up and down the shores of Louisiana and Mississippi, shaking hands with the locals and talking to the heads of the cleanup crews.
Forget the political aspect. Had he been there the day after the spill, or even the week afterward, BP would have felt a heavy weight on its shoulders and been pressured to work at a breakneck speed. Instead, Obama let slip both his political and tangible grasps on the situation.