My column today examines the diffident demeanor of our commander-in-chief in crisis. To his oil spill and Christmas Day bomber press events, I should also add his bizarrely detached initial remarks about the Fort Hood jihadi attack — which he treated as an afterthought. Remember? Once is an oddity. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a condition.
Barack Obama in crisis: Zzzz
by Michelle Malkin
President Bush's harshest critics often described his look during moments of crisis as "deer in the headlights." After two years of Hope and Change, America has grown accustomed to President Obama's crisis face: eyes glazed over.
At his first press conference in 308 days, Obama fielded questions about the Gulf oil spill, immigration, the war in Afghanistan and the mounting outrage over Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak's job-trading allegations with a sluggishness bordering on geriatric. His aplomb was a bomb.
The commander-in-chief's mumbling, diffident tone contradicted the "I CARE" message of urgency that drifted across the teleprompter screen and rolled languidly off his tongue.
"I am angry and frustrated," he heaved. Rather unconvincingly. He was "singularly focused," he asserted. Rather distractedly. The president did manage to work up enough energy to condemn BP and then turned to a moment of obligatory self-aggrandizement: "I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."
How "on top" was he? Well, not enough to take the time on Thursday morning before his much-hyped appearance to nail down the details of how and why his Interior Department Chief of the Minerals Management Service Liz Birnbaum was no longer in office. "You're assuming it was a firing," Obama told reporters. "I don't yet know the circumstances." He explained that he was preoccupied with other matters and couldn't get ahold of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
When pressed to elaborate, he heaved again: "I don't know."
Then, addressing all the ignorant Americans who have failed to appreciate his rescue efforts, Obama mustered up a semblance of indignation: "Those who think we were either slow in our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred."
And this is the Obama definition of accountability: blaming everyone else for lacking the Ivy League-honed comprehension skills to see the greatness of his fortitude and foresight.
How high of a priority did his administration really make the post-spill cleanup? After droning on haltingly about the federal failure to form an "oil…tracking…flow…group," Obama admitted with a shrug: "There was a lag of several weeks that shouldn't have happened."
With more self-pity than compassion, Obama wrapped up the rare press conference with a disjointed, off-script ramble:
"But look, we've gone through a difficult year and a half. This is just one more bit of difficulty. And this is going to be hard, not just right now; it's going to be hard for months to come. …
"You know, when I woke up this morning, and I'm shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door, and she peeks in her head, and she says, 'Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?' — (soft laughter) — because I think everybody understands that, you know, when we are fouling the Earth like this, it has concrete implications not just for this generation but for future generations. …
"And in case anybody wonders — in any of your reporting, in case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.
"That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged, and I'm fully engaged, all right?"
Not waiting for an answer (or for any more nettlesome questions), he hurried off for a quick photo-op pit stop in the Gulf on Friday before jetting to Chicago to keep a high-priority promise to be back in his hometown for Memorial Day weekend.
The sterile performance was eerily reminiscent of his national security announcement last December from Hawaii, when he appeared before the American people in tie-less informal island wear to read a bloodless, perfunctory statement about the Christmas Day bomber. Eyes down on his notes the whole time, he described the failed attack with the weariness of a small-town sheriff's deputy, rather than as the leader of the free world. Then it was back to the beach. This is Obama in crisis: disengaged, put upon and impatient to get back to Me Time.
Rough men stand ready to keep and defend our well-being and safety. Someone wake President Obama when it's over.
I listened to the first part of this press conference, too, and I also got the sense that it was all a big bother to him. He threw out lots of one-liners that anyone paying attention knows were absurd, and he just seemed irritated that anyone would dare to question anything he said or did. He just can't change who he is, and the facade has cracked, hopefully for good. I think that his handlers know exactly how bad he is at this sort of thing, but the political heat had just become to hot to avoid doing a real press conference any longer. After all, without the media on his side, the propaganda machine breaks down and the truth trickles out. Can't have that nasty truth thing being public knowledge, you know. So, when even Obot reporters started complaining in public about going almost a full year without a press conference, Obama had little choice. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. He screwed himself by performing dismally again, but at least he smoothed the press' ruffled feathers a bit.
But, the American people are now seeing him for what he is: a disinterested, better-than-thou, intellectual who has no solutions for real-world problems other than to throw gobs of taxpayer dollars and empty platitudes at them until someone in the private sector actually fixes them.
Jim Geraghty's daily newsletter had a great roundup of some of the best comments on the lackluster performance:
1. So That's Why He Doesn't Do Press Conferences AnymoreEarly on -- say, 2005 or 2006 -- I thought then-senator Barack Obama was indeed a great speaker and a true rising star in politics. (For those jeering, cut me some slack, pal -- I was out of the country.) But then I caught him at a few candidate cattle calls in early 2007 and was strikingly underwhelmed; when your reputation is that you're LeBron James, JFK, Martin Luther King, and Jesus all rolled into one, you're expected to knock it out of the park every time. And the more he underwhelmed me, the more my social betters at larger publications kept insisting that his latest speech was the greatest in American history, or at least the best in American history since his last speech.So when Obama completely bobbles a press conference, I'm not surprised; what does surprise me is when everybody else starts noticing.Tom Maguire, writing at JustOneMinute: "Obama tells us he is in charge at his press conference, then goes off-message by claiming he was a mere bystander to the dismissal of the head of the Minerals and Management Services. NY Timeswoman Jackie Calmes asked a skeptical follow-up about this, so we will see how much BS the press can swallow."Allahpundit, writing at Hot Air: "I could wring 10 posts out of that oil spill of a press conference but any more than three would be cruel to you guys, I think. So here's the first golden moment, which even some lefties were laughing at on Twitter. After solemnly insisting that 'the federal government is fully engaged and I'm fully engaged,' The One admits he's . . . not quite sure what happened with the head of MMS this morning because he was busy with a bunch of other important stuff at the time. Like, for instance, meeting with the Duke basketball team. In fairness, it's not entirely clear even now whether Birnbaum jumped or was pushed: Officially she resigned but sources tell CNN she was fired. Even so, given the growing public contempt for MMS's embarrassingly shoddy oversight, I'm amazed he didn't seize this as an opportunity for a 'damn right I ordered the code red on Birnbaum' moment. On a day when the public's desperately looking for authority and accountability, he's flatly admitting that he's out of the loop. Great work, champ."The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart, usually a reliable Obama fan: "Obama's admission that he was clueless on this question was shocking. Perhaps he was being polite. Not wanting to draw attention to the sacking of an individual the American people didn't realize was even there. But by not proactively announcing Birnbaum's departure and then being caught flat-footed on what happened to her, Obama will fuel the narrative that he is a cool chief executive who is not only aloof but also unaware of the machinations of his own administration."I thought I had the perfect example of how meaningless Obama's rote pledges have become -- "We will not rest until," "Let me be clear" -- with my list of "top priorities" he's referred to since the initial explosion, but Tabitha Hale tweets, "Obama has made 2 visits to the gulf since the spill . . . and 4 visits to California to campaign for Boxer." (Although I wonder, is it four visits or four fundraisers in two visits?)
The comparisons of this being the equivalent of Bush's Katrina aren't exactly accurate -- though in some ways still very close -- for reasons I won't get into here. Regardless, this does seem to be shaping up in such a way as to paint Barack Obama in a certain light that won't be kind to him no matter how much time passes, and are almost certain to hurt him politically big-time in the near future. In fact, the anger and frustration has gone beyond the traditional Right and the right-leaners who still supported him, even boiling over onto the reliable Left now, too. Not good for him, very good for America.
We'll keep watching him be 'on top of' and 'fully engaged in' the situation.
There's my two cents.