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Published: Wednesday, 6/23/2010

Little man in charge

Commentators who in the past have had orgasms when President Obama spoke were unimpressed by his speech from the Oval Office recently on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The speech was "curiously flat," said Newsweek's Howard Fineman.

"President Obama said he is going to use the Gulf disaster to immediately push a new energy bill through Congress," said comedian Jay Leno. "How about first using the Gulf disaster to fix the Gulf disaster?"

Americans seemed to agree. The President's job approval fell to its lowest level ever in Rasmussen's tracking poll. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling indicated most people in Louisiana think President Bush did a better job responding to Hurricane Katrina than Mr. Obama has in responding to the oil spill.

A mostly pedestrian speech had a hilarious moment when Mr. Obama said: "The one approach I will not accept is inaction," because inaction is what has characterized his response in the first 57 days.

This President doesn't act in a crisis. He reacts - sluggishly - and does so chiefly to deflect blame from himself. Members of Congress share blame for the oil spill in the Gulf, His Petulance whined to Politico June 11.

But it wasn't Congress that failed to implement a containment plan in place since 1994, or turned down offers of help from foreign governments, or delayed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's request to build sand barriers to protect his state's marshlands.

Orchestrating the response is the job of the President. But for the first six weeks, he contented himself with calling British Petroleum nasty names. If the company is as bad as he says it is (as it very well may be) why did he put it in charge of the cleanup when - under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 - the legal responsibility rests with him?

As more oil spewed and his poll numbers dropped, the President butched up his rhetoric. To Matt Lauer of the Today Show on June 8, he said he was looking for some "ass to kick." This descent into adolescent bravado was lampooned by late-night comedians and drew critical comment from abroad.

In the Today Show interview, the President said he had yet to speak with Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer.

That brought this retort from Sarah Palin: "It's the President's duty meeting on a CEO-to-CEO level with Hayward, to verify what BP reports," she said. "You cannot outsource the cleanup and the responsibility and the trust to BP and expect the legitimate interests of Americans adversely affected by this spill will somehow be met. You have to get involved, sir."

Two days after that tongue-lashing, the White House announced Mr. Obama would meet with Mr. Hayward. That meeting lasted just 20 minutes

Such a big office. Such a little man occupying it.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.

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