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Daniel Ruth

Obama is unflappable, and that's unpopular

As if turning the Gulf of Mexico into the La Brea Tar Pits isn't horrific enough, you just know, don't you, that when the final history of the BP oil gusher disaster is written, at some point we'll find out the whole gooey boo-boo was caused when some $1.35 gizmo went bad. • We've heard this refrain a million times: "Good grief, we can send a man to the moon, but we can't … (fill in the blank: construct a levee that holds back water, build a car with a functioning accelerator pedal, create a Facebook page protecting the user's privacy that doesn't resemble the U.S. Tax Code)." • Or stop an oil leak.

Still, we invest an awful lot of confident expectations in the power of technology to manage our lives and solve our problems. Perhaps it is because we take the bells and whistles for granted. Perhaps it is because we have no choice.

Until a few short weeks ago, both President Barack Obama and Gov. Charlie Crist believed extending oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico wasn't such a bad idea. And why not? After all, drilling has been going on for decades in the gulf and there had rarely been a problem.

The engineering of oil exploration had been refined. The process was reasonably safe. The science could be trusted. Until now. And you'll not be surprised to learn both Obama and Crist have — for the moment, at least — changed their minds.

We look at large corporations and see their commercials extolling their commitment to quality, to protecting the environment, to putting the public first, and like three-card monte marks on a New York subway, we believe. We want to believe. Besides, we have no choice.

Through the prism of history, is the BP oil spill really that much of a shock?

In recent years auto companies, because of their incompetence, have been bailed out. Unscrupulous real estate salesmen lured unqualified buyers to purchase homes they had no hope of ever paying for. Financial institutions, because of their greed, have been rescued. Toyota seemed befuddled when it came to building a car that — stops. We live in an age of recalls, apologies and hat-in-hand trips to Congress.

Indeed, not too long ago scientists discovered one of the contributing factors to the sinking of the Titanic could be traced to inferior bolts used to build the unsinkable ship. This thing probably would have gone under as efficiently as it did had it struck an ice cube.

Why should BP be any different?

In the end, for all the appearances of technological surgical precision in handling the crisis — computer blinking war rooms, fancy robotic submarines, legions of engineers huddled over blueprints — you had to believe we were going to be in for a long-haul disaster when the company had to resort to trying to shove golf balls down the flowing broken oil pipe.

What would you call this? The Tin Cup Kill?

By now we have learned the spill came about as a result of inferior cement poured by Halliburton before the explosion, a faulty seal and a delay in turning on the blowout preventer thingy — a perfect storm of lousy equipment meeting a dithering corporate bureaucrat.

And thus the ecology of the gulf, the economic livelihoods of tens of thousands of people are all in the hands of the very people responsible for their woes simply because BP, and its associates, are the only ones to possess the technology capable of eventually fixing the problem — some day.

This is a bit like the CIA hiring the mob to bump off Fidel Castro because they supposedly had the expertise to do the job. Well, that didn't work, either.

There are some who expect Obama to turn into a de facto Ragin' Cajun over the spill, as if ranting and raving will stop the leak, frothing and foaming will clean the wetlands and sputtering with anger will bring back the fishing industry.

The president has not been emotional enough to deal with the crisis, so the criticism goes. They want Huey Long and they got Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or put another way, whom would these same critics have preferred to lead the troops on D-day, George Custer, the Mommy Dearest of cannon fodder, or the unflappable Dwight Eisenhower?

Perhaps it would have made some people happy if Obama had been more lathered up, even though it wouldn't have stopped one drop of oil from reaching the Louisiana shoreline.

We tried emotion before. We tried hellfire and brimstone. We tried displays of braggadocio. And in return we got more than 4,000 body bags back from a reckless, needless war in Iraq. Been there. Done that. No thanks.

Meanwhile the oil continues to burble. BP stumbles from one public relations disaster to another, a president seethes and an anxious citizenry waits and waits and waits for the bell to finally ring and a whistle to finally blow.

Obama is unflappable, and that's unpopular 06/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 7:58pm]

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