I woke up one recent morning with a start, possessed of one of those intuitions that you only get when you’re still half-asleep. You know, that brief period in the semidark when you’re beginning to think clearly but all of the assumptions that encrust your daily life haven’t yet reattached themselves to your judgment and your mind works about as freely as it ever does.
And while I lay there, cursing the poodles for whining to be let out for some leakage of their own, I realized that there is at least a fair chance that the BP Blowout could save the Obama Presidency.
There are several preliminary matters to consider:
• The accident was not his fault, any more than Katrina was Bush’s fault.
• Like Bush’s response to Katrina, Obama’s response to the Blowout has been diffident and tepid. But rescuing people from catastrophic floods is something that governments have known how to do, and the Bush administration did not distinguish itself. Obama’s dithering does not upset us to the same degree, because governments are not expected to know how to fix blowouts, and nobody at all knows how to solve this problem.
• The right and the left are taking shots at Obama over the Blowout because they’re mad at him about other things. With good reason, by their lights, but their criticism of him over the Blowout looks like piling on, because of (1) and (2). (But I must say, all the golfing and partying does betray a certain tone-deafness in this guy.)
OK, so preliminarily, we start out with a certain shakiness in the current unhappiness with the Obama administration over the handling of the Blowout. Add to the weakness of the charges against Obama on this score the following:
• The Blowout has crowded off the front pages – or at least to below the fold – bipartisan and public dismay with the poor policy decisions for which President Obama and the congressional democrats are responsible. When was the last time you heard anything about the health care bill? The latest OMB, CBO, and HHS cost projections? Employers cutting group plans? They’d curl your hair if it ever uncurled after watching children running screaming from tar balls advancing on their favorite vacation beach.
• Similarly, the public preoccupation with the Blowout disguises the Administration’s continued implementation of its extreme statist agenda through agency regulations, which has only accellerated in recent months.
• The nomination of liberal Supreme Court Justices was one of conservatives' greatest fears during the presidential campaign, and in recent years nominations have been flash points for highly partisan debate. But the confirmation process of mediocre ideological-cipher-but-demonstrably-rather-left-of-center Elena Kagan has excited relatively little media interest.
• The Republicans are displaying their customary lack of strategic vision in their reaction to the Blowout and the Administration's handling of it. Their efforts to direct attention to the longer-lasting damage the White House is visiting on the nation through bad policy are lukewarm and diffuse. Neither the Republicans nor the Tea Party Express have any bright ideas on what to do about the Blowout, and they (and the right in general) are perceived by the public as supportive of Big Oil and, in particular, drilling for crude offshore and in other exotic places.
• Sooner or later – surely before Election Season 2012 rolls around – the Blowout will have been mostly solved and the cleanup will be well underway. I also suspect we will find, as we did with the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez, that, horrendous as the damage was, the sea and shores will heal more quickly than predicted. And just as Obama generated bad feelings with his early failure to do anything about the Blowout, he will get credit for the greatly improving situation. He will have earned neither the obloquy nor the credit, but no matter – the credit will come his way during a time when he will be looking to trade on it for re-election.
So I don’t think the Blowout will be Obama’s Katrina. I think it may well be closer akin to his Operation Desert Storm, a distraction from his failures and weaknesses whose eventual less-fatal-than-imagined resolution will relieve the public to such an extent that it will credit the President simply for standing nearby.
I concede: The foregoing speculation gives President Obama credit for some political foresightedness – he can’t continue to make appalling high-profile policy blunders between White House parties and hope no one will notice.
But as I rest my head on the pillow at the end of a long day, poodles crated for the night after their final wringing-out, the Memsahib switches to the news and I see that Attorney General Holder is suing Arizona for enforcing federal immigration laws, that President Obama has sailed way past President Bush in number of golf rounds played (including almost a dozen since the Blowout), and that they let Joe Biden out to make another speech. The day falls away and slumber's approach is hastened by the sweetdream thought that President Obama’s post-Presidential memoir will be titled My Term.