For a nation sickened by what is happening in the Gulf Coast, there is more to leadership than the orderly marshaling of top officials and the appointment of a commission to look into the damage that’s been done. There’s a visceral need for someone to emphatically take charge and share our pain, and that’s where Obama fell short until this afternoon in his press conference. It wasn’t until his response to the very last question in the hourlong session that the preternaturally calm president finally showed us some human emotion. Every morning, when he’s shaving, his daughter Malia pokes her head in and asks, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?”
The environmental assault is most keenly felt by our youngsters, who have grown up with an awareness of the fragility of the planet that earlier generations did not have to think about. Obama has to answer to the country, but he also has to answer to his daughters, who believe in him and his power to stop the leak. For the first time in this monthlong saga of the spill, Obama reminded us that he grew up in Hawaii, “where the ocean is sacred.” He said he can understand the anguished cries from gulf residents, who see the shoreline drenched with oil and their way of life threatened along with the ecosystem.
His show of command and caring, though belated, came just in time to quiet critics and will be capped by an on-site visit to the gulf tomorrow. It’s a familiar pattern with Obama. He hangs back until it appears that almost all is lost, and then he retrieves the situation. He did it with health-care reform early this year, and during the campaign he saved his candidacy from imploding with an eloquent speech on race that his aides didn’t want him to give. Obama has an inner compass that he relies on and that, so far, has served him well.
For those who are clamoring for a bullhorn moment, that’s not Obama’s style. He has a well-honed disdain for the conventions and rituals of Washington. The “No-Drama Obama” that set him apart as a candidate now resides in the White House. His confidence in himself and his faith in the public’s ability to judge results beyond the 24-hour news cycle keep him on course despite all that is raging around him. Even so, thank you, Malia, for letting your daddy know how much you care. He’s got a big job and part of it is playing daddy to us all.