Kneale: What's Obama Really Kicking?

Oh snap!!! The President of the United States of America, with a professor's impeccable grammar, is takin' names and lookin' for "whose ass to kick."

This was President Obama’s latest response to the BP oil spill that has tarred his presidency. Since crude oil began leaking furiously from the botched BP well in the Gulf of Mexico 52 days ago, the Obama Administration has plied a plethora of tough talk: the ol’ “boot on the neck,” the mantra to make BP pay “every dime” of the clean-up costs, the gleeful rush to maybe indict someone we can blame.

Now President Obama, all 180 slender pounds of him, wants to kick some ass. What is it with Democrats and that word? Albeit, their party mascot is, appropriately, a jackass.

The President didn't embark on this quest for butts-to-punt in an off-the-record anecdote leaked to an enchanted New York Times. This derriere diatribe came out of the man's mouth on camera. On morning television. On NBC's "The Today Show" for gawdsakes, the gentle morning wakeup call for millions of sleepy, middle American homemakers. (You can watch that soundbite of President Obama in the video below.)

It had to have been by design. Calculated stagecraft drives most every move in any administration, especially this one.

Got two big problems with that. First: Talkers aren't doers. My dad told me that when I was 10, so I would tremble less when Chubby the Bully threatened to maim me. One wishes Obama the Bullywould focus on the fix first, and worry about punishment later.

And second: It looks weak. Shades of Jimmy Carter! His one-term presidency languished in a national malaise amidst a severe economic slump: high unemployment, soaring deficits, and contradictory worries about inflation, deflation and staglation.

Sound eerily familiar?

President Carter, fighting an image of impotence, invoked the a-word, too, though he had the class to do it by press leak. In June 1979, as Sen. Edward Kennedy mustered up the temerity to mount an intraparty challenge to a sitting Democratic President, Carter told a private dinner of Congressmen: "I'll whip his ass."

Jimmy did—and then he lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. Thus a pro-business, less-government revolution was born.

You can understand the temptation for Bam to pose as a latter-day Harry “Give ’em Hell” Truman (another foul-mouthed Dem). Tough talk is all you have when the all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t manage to quell the geyser spurting up from a wound a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

The key question is whether pugnacious proclamations help fix the problem—and they don’t. From the very first explosion in the Gulf, the Obama Administration has been more intent on talking punitively rather than huddling with BP.

Obama repeatedly assures us: “We will demand they pay every dime they owe for the damage they've done and the painful losses they've caused.” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar vows to “keep a boot on the neck” of BP, a swaggering sentiment endorsed by White House mouthpiece Robert Gibbs.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder proudly announces criminal and civil investigations to placate the mob, saying authorities aren’t “clear on who should ultimately be held liable . . . we don’t want to cast aspersions.” So, instead, he casts aspersions on all involved: “We have what we think is a sufficient basis for us to have begun a criminal investigation.”


Why not, instead, call a White House emergency summit of the world’s biggest offshore drillers for a joint effort to help BP cap that gushing well? They could share fixes, compare and bulletproof their own systems for crisis-response, devise an instant plan for checking on, and securing, the safety of offshore wells.

Yet it was shocking to learn that President Obama hadn’t even spoken directly to BP chief Tony Hayward, hadn’t sat down with him to plot a response. Then again, a face-to-face would be kind of awkward, seeing as how Bam just publicly declared that Hayward “wouldn’t be working for me” after making so many public gaffes.

Here’s the thing, Bam: It ain’t your call. That decision is up to the BP board and BP shareholders. In an informal insta-poll of power players at the Yale CEO Conference yesterday at the New York Stock Exchange, 69 percent said Hayward should be fired; 56 percent predict he will be gone in six months.

And 69 percent said the President should have met with BP. Obama says he hasn’t done so because the BP guys would just tell him what he wants to hear.

“I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions,” he told “Today.”

So are the American people, Mr. President. Yet so far, we keep getting more tough talk, and still not a lot of visible actions. How much longer before the people see through this President’s veil of invective?