Tough-talking Obama is a change of pace

In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, President Barack Obama says his talks with Gulf fishermen and oil spill experts are not an academic exercise. They're "so I know whose ass to kick."
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

He started the week promising to "ride herd" over oil giant BP. Then he said he was talking to fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico so he would "know whose ass to kick."

By the time President Obama arrived at a Medicare event in Maryland on Tuesday, it appeared that his inner cowboy was fully unleashed.

"I want to send a notice to all who would swindle and steal from seniors and the Medicare system: We are going to find you, we will prosecute you, and we will ultimately prevent those crimes from happening ever again," he said, turning what could have been a sluggish event -- a teleconference with seniors in Wheaton -- into an unlikely venue for him to, yes, show some emotion.

A man of understated expression, Obama might as well have been hooked up to a feelings Geiger counter in the weeks since the oil spill in the gulf began, as the country has waited for him to show anger or frustration in some dramatic way.

Instead, he has taken to dryly explaining his steady demeanor.

The president has been flooded with criticism for his public approach. In that context, his promise to deliver forceful punishment grabbed attention Tuesday.

Yet Obama did not walk into an NBC interview that aired Tuesday with that as a talking point. Instead, "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer asked him whether it was time to "kick some butt." Obama replied: "We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right? So, you know, this is not theater. . . . And my job is to figure out how can I move the federal government, the private sector, all the various players who are involved, to perform some very, very difficult tasks."

The president said he would have fired the BP chief executive Tony Hayward after he made comments minimizing the impact of the spill. "He wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements," Obama said.

Still, when asked why he had not called Hayward to give him a piece of his mind, the president was his reasonable self. "I'm not interested in words," he said. "I'm interested in actions."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company