Obama seems all about safety -- his own
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The rain on Memorial Day forced a lot of backyard cookouts inside. While the rain fell in sheets, the cramped intimacy of dining room tables across the region likely triggered more than a few wistful conversations about President Obama.
The BP crisis is reframing the way people who happily voted for Mr. Obama think about his presidency. Even in East End circles where I'm a habitue, suspicion has replaced disappointment about our 44th president.
What happened to the guy whose sweeping oratory about "change we can believe in" confounded both the Clinton machine and the half-cult of personality that was the McCain/Palin ticket?
How did the born-again populist with an intellectual streak become just another colorless, stammering politician in less than two years? How is it possible for a president to make two trips to Louisiana during the greatest environmental disaster of our times, clutch tar balls in his hands and still refrain from a moment of hot rhetoric at the expense of a universally despised oil company?
At a Memorial Day dinner I attended, there wasn't just disappointment with Mr. Obama's inability to find his inner Huey Long -- there was an undercurrent of genuine anger.
It went far beyond the handling of the BP crisis. As far as anyone can tell, there isn't much to distinguish Mr. Obama's policies in Afghanistan and Iraq from his predecessor's.
Beyond the Deepwater Horizon, Mr. Obama has been a disappointment on civil liberties, banking reform, military spending, the drug war, Middle East policy, immigration and the environment. Political gamesmanship and calculation of the rankest kind continue. Even his latest Supreme Court nominee shows every indication of being as colorless as the president has proven to be in recent months. It's too much to expect this president to champion a progressive Supreme Court candidate.
Meanwhile, the corrupt culture of Wall Street continues to set the agenda, thanks to cowardly Democrats and nihilistic Republicans. Accountability is as much a dirty word for Mr. Obama as it was for President George W. Bush.
And just like before, heads rarely roll, unless they're relatively low level. The CEO of BP should be sitting in leg irons right now, wondering if even his company has deep enough pockets to pay his impossibly high bail. Dozens of Wall Street titans should be peeling potatoes in the prison infirmary alongside Bernie Madoff.
The secretary of energy should be looking for a graceful way to get out of town in light of the BP debacle. The failure to reform the culture of corruption and ineptitude that permeates the energy sector after the laissez-faire Bush years is as big a stain on Mr. Obama's legacy as the oil spill itself.
Honestly, other than the particularities of the historical record, it no longer makes sense to blame Mr. Bush for much when Mr. Obama has done little -- other than improvise a less belligerent foreign policy -- to distinguish himself from the 43rd president.
During my Memorial Day dinner with friends, we half-joked that the folks who "really" run this country probably cornered Mr. Obama on his first day in office to have what we euphemistically refer to as "The Talk."
Staged like a family intervention for incoming presidents, The Talk would have gathered representatives from the military, the intelligence sector, a few wealthy donors, the three top corporate CEOs, Oprah, Fox News and the former president around the new president for a "reality check." The Talk would have gone like this:
"You made some pretty speeches about change and some amazing promises about transparency, Mr. President. Alas, we have the sad duty of informing you that your track record for keeping these promises will be worse than most in your first term. If you want a second term, listen to us.
"Business will continue as usual. We have no interest in reform or disrupting the status quo. Your Cabinet appointments will be those who have already proven themselves capable of carrying our water. When it comes to war and peace, you will not deviate from the path laid out by your predecessors.
"Don't doubt our will, Mr. President. We installed your predecessor, an incurious man with zero interest in governing in this office. We got a black man half of America believes is a foreign-born Muslim elected president just to prove a point. We could take an Alaskan hockey mom who makes the previous president look like Einstein and do the same thing.
"Ignore us at your peril, Mr. President. Sure, your heartbroken supporters will complain that you sold them down the river at the first opportunity, but that's OK. There's no shame in selling out to reality."
First Published June 4, 2010 6:23 am