The President and the Oil: How to Cap the Damage

May 31, 10 | 1:01 PM   byMichael Wolff
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The main topic at the White House ought to be the oil spill, but it is as much, obviously, about how to recast the president.

The media consensus, which is the most irresistible one in the White House, is that President Obama simply isn’t connecting with the American people.

Within the White House, connecting with the American people seems, for obvious reasons, to be a far easier goal than capping the well—which is a good indication of how bad and intractable the spill is.

But really the techniques for making a remote and hands-off president seem sympathetic and in charge are about as paltry as the techniques for getting a runaway gusher a mile under the sea to stop gushing.

The strategies are: 1) A round of talk show appearances; 2) A big speech; 3) A series of intimate and humanizing events on location.

In other words, the two areas of modern life that we used to have some confidence in, technological wherewithal and media spinning, turn out to deserve, each in their way, no confidence at all.

(AP Photo)
Still, what other alternatives are there but to go through the motions—top kill, containment cap, relief wells, and, too:

1) Lots of nuanced discussions about whether the president should appear on Letterman, Leno, or, because this is about putting on a human face, nixing late night in favor of The View, because the human face is a women’s thing;

2) An obvious understanding that the president, not exactly Mr. Intimate, is better in a larger, meta, abstract context, hence key speechwriters trying to work up a concept—but, unfortunately, the issues in an oil spill are more specific than abstract;

3) Quite a bit of wincing about last week’s photo of the president squatting on the beach and squinting at a bit of tar—what a dork; that’s the problem with trying to humanize him up close—he’s as charming and as comfortable as Nixon.

So here’s the upshot and the lesson: We can’t fix it.

The modern idea that all is plastic, malleable, and subject to crafty and savvy manipulation comes to this: The world is as it is.

The opportunities for correcting great errors and for putting a good face on the terrible ruptures and threats of the age are limited.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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