I could accept that the federal government has done everything it can about the Gulf Coast oil spill, I just can't say the same about Barack Obama. I believe the president has been truthful, and that everything he said last Thursday in his East Room news briefing probably is accurate, right up to and including the fact that the federal government, not BP, has been "in charge" of the response.
But there's the problem: Obama shouldn't have had to tell us, more than a month after the spill first began, that he and the government have been in charge. We should have known it all along.
Let me be clear. I don't subscribe to the notion popular on the Right that somehow equates Barack Obama and the BP spill with George W. Bush and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Like Frank Rich of the New York Times, I think that it's fairly obvious that Obama has been infinitely more competent in dealing with this disaster than Bush was five years ago. Bush proved to be all swagger and bravado ("Heckuva job, Brownie") but no substance.
An irony is that Obama, the consummate competent professional in a crisis, perhaps would have done well to be a little more like Bush, or at least maybe borrowed some of that Bush bravado. Another irony is that maybe Obama should have been more the "celebrity" that his 2008 campaign opponents tried to attack him as being.
If Obama were more celebrity, and less problem-solver, he likely would have paid more attention to an intangible, but essential, aspect of leadership: narrative. A president must establish, and then maintain, a narrative with the American people. This is what Ronald Reagan, a former actor, did almost by instinct and how he became "The Great Communicator." Reagan may have been planning the most foolish policy, but he always sold the American people on it by wrapping it within a great story The ultimate irony is that Obama can do it, too, he just doesn't anymore. The president propelled himself to the White House, and pushed erstwhile 2008 front-runner Hillary Clinton out of the way, by telling endless stories on the campaign trail, stories of what he saw as wrong with America, and stories of how to make it right.