Like a lot of other bloviators, I gave President Obama a hard time last night about his Oval Office address. He was vague and cautious, even as he proclaimed his dedication to the cause of protecting the Gulf of Mexico and its beleaguered people. He said that he was Army Strong, but he came off as Bureaucratic Distant. At least that's what I wrote here, and said on MSNBC.
But today, let's give him some credit. Yes, he did not furnish the battle report he should have, but he went light on the inflammatory populist rhetoric for a reason: he was in the midst of coaxing a $20 billion-plus commitment out of a London-based company that already has lost half of its market value. And he had some impressive administrative moves up his sleeve that he knew had a good chance of winning him points even with jaded and cynical insiders -- and residents of the Gulf.
If Tuesday night was bad theater, Wednesday morning was great substance.
Rather than pick an open fight with BP, whose top execs came to the White House with lawyers (led by Jamie Gorelick), Obama smoothly eased the oil company into a strong, and essentially open-ended legal and political commitment. And although some (including me) had assumed otherwise, BP took the calculated risk of foregoing any dividend payments to its shareholders for the rest of the year. Very smart politics.
The choice of Ken Feinberg to head the relief fund was a no-brainer, and yet Obama was able to score a coup of sorts in putting that in place. Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 fund before becoming pay czar, is the unofficial American Solomon, a man whose wisdom, fairness and probity are unquestioned. As his designated ass-kicker at the bedraggled and embarrassingly lax Minerals Mining Service, he chose the focused and hard-charging -- and deeply respected -- Mike Bromwich. And to study the long term rebuilding of the region he chose former Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi, who knows the region and its culture and waters.
Nice work, Mr. President. Now plug the damn hole.