Obama can't seem to catch a break on his oil spill response

BP is trying another risky temporary fix to contain the oil and siphon it to the surface by sawing through the leaking pipe and putting a cap over the spill.
By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

So now the rap on President Obama is that his response to the oil spill along the Gulf Coast hasn't been heartfelt enough. He comes off as emotionally detached, critics say, and, by the way, isn't it a pity that the white folk from the coastal red states who never wanted a black man in the White House in the first place are complaining that he doesn't care about them?

Talk about projecting their hard feelings onto others.

"The politics of the disaster are Cajun hot, but Obama is cerebral cool," wrote Howard Fineman on msnbc.com. So we get our first black president -- and he's criticized for being too smart and not temperamental enough! Obama just can't seem to catch a break. He gets no credit for doing right and gets blamed even when he does nothing wrong.

Fineman, who penned one of the classier critiques, urged Obama to put some "Tabasco" into his reactions. No doubt the president would then be criticized for being a hotheaded militant. But he should go for it anyway.

Offer condolences to those who lost loved ones in the explosion, then sock it to British Petroleum for causing the disaster. But don't stop there. Make a special point of calling out our carping baby boomer generation -- the roughly 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- who take no responsibility for anything that goes wrong on our watch.

When it comes to oil, we seem to be stuck in some infantile stage where it's okay to suckle on the gas pump till the well runs dry. We don't care where the oil comes from, and we'll do anything to get it. Boycott BP? You've got to be kidding. Our appetite is insatiable, and now that gorging has got us in trouble we want Obama to burp us and jump-start our sense of outrage.

Outrage at anybody other than ourselves, of course.

Listen to how incessantly we complain about nobody coming to our rescue. Conditioned by disaster movies to have heroes show up within 90 minutes or so, we are beside ourselves that 44 days have passed and oil is still gushing into the gulf. At this rate, with no end to the leakage expected before August, what is already the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history could come to be regarded as the American Chernobyl, with consequences lasting well into the next century.

One badly timed hurricane and the Big Easy becomes the Big Greasy -- and the Gulf Coast economy slides into the sea.

The boomers can express faux indignation: If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we fix a busted oil pipe? Could the answer be that we have become a generation of slackers in science and math that grown-ups have been warning about for decades? Can our generation even field a team of engineers smart enough to cap the well -- or do we have to call the help line in India for that, too?

There is much about Obama to criticize. If he has a plan for creating jobs, for instance, I sure haven't heard about it. But I suspect that the president will still be disliked even when unemployment drops.

After all, he took office with the country on the brink of a second Great Depression and, in relatively short order, pulled us back from the brink. And still he gets blamed for the economic mess created by the previous administration.

Part of the problem in the case of the oil spill is that we have no frame of reference for how a black president is suppose to make us feel better during a national disaster. We get scared if he talks too loud, lose confidence if he tries to appear calm. All we really have to draw on are those inspirational black movie characters -- like that giant black man with supernatural powers in "The Green Mile." We'd love it if Obama could breathe new life into all of the dead pelicans and then, with one deep breath, blow all those tar balls over to Mexico.

Then again, after reviving a dead mouse and saving the life of Tom Hanks's character, the magical black giant still ended up being sent to the electric chair for crimes he did not commit.

A superhuman Obama would not likely fare much better.

E-mail me at milloyc@washpost.com.

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