Friday, June 11, 2010

Learning to Swim

The hysteria towards the Louisiana oil spill is reaching a feverish pitch. Television images depict gut wrenching devastation; birds covered with oil, marsh lands, coast lines and oceans thick with splotches of slick black oil. Fishermen groan about the impact on their livelihood. Newscasters lose their objectivity and start blaming the White House. It seems that the general public is baying for blood. Even the president is affected and starts looking for someone to blame. Some news channels even point to the president himself. I think these people would like the president to don a wet suit, dive into the ocean and cap the spewing oil himself before they change their rhetoric.

I guess it’s a question of perception than actual taking control. For example, after the devastating Oklahoma bombing, Clinton staged a press conference and gave commanding orders to the government agency (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or ATF) to take charge of the investigation. He combined soaring and angry rhetoric with the image of being in command. I think Obama needs to learn from this episode. The media fall out would be limited if he had staged a similar press conference and publicly assigned a government agency (ex. Coast Guard or EPA) to take charge of the operation with the help of the beleaguered oil company - BP. This would give the impression of leadership, decisiveness and resoluteness.

The focus would have shifted away from the president and to the assigned agencies tasked by the White House to handle the crises. But the incident was left to develop by itself perhaps due to misunderstanding the damage to the environment and loss of people’s livelihood in the area plus the ability of the oil company to fix the problem. So now, after more than 50 days of elusive success, everyone is looking for someone to blame and the only one left is the president. If there’s anyone who should be responsible, it’s the Louisiana governor. He is the man on the ground directly answerable to his constituents affected by the oil spill. The governor should have stepped up and directly took charge.

It is sad that a blaming culture has entrenched itself into the national consciousness. One is aghast at the things the allegedly conservative televisions say about the president. There is no rigorous analysis of events but a gut reaction to maintain conservative ‘truths’ no longer relevant in modern times. This negative atmosphere is results in a negative reaction from the president himself. I think he needs to take a page from Reagan and paint a more optimistic and hopeful future. After all, current statistics like job growth, home sales and the general economy seem to be moving up. But the good news is being dampened by the oil spill crisis, European bailouts, the Tea party and a seemingly ugly backlash against incumbents.

The trash talk is about a repeal of the health care bill, exploiting a seeming rage against incumbent politicians who are for big government. I don’t think this negativity can be sustained all the way to the November elections. The economy is improving, a number of people are getting employed and unemployment benefits are going down. I am reading a recent book called ‘Reset’ by Kurt Anderson. The writer claims that the country needs to ‘reset’ its national life and begin a new direction adapted to current realities. For instance, telling people to buy smaller homes due to the recent financial crisis, to save more and avoid living a large ‘lifestyle’ of excess. It’s a good book to understand the current malaise. But one feels a big change is coming; starting with 9/11 and the last election. Despite the focus on rising Asian countries like China and India; there are big ideas being fought here (big government or not, alternative energy, health care reform, financial reform, immigration reform, etc.) with new innovations (Google, iPad, Face book, etc.) and so on that will change the game for many years to come.

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