"To replace them with what? asked the estimable, admirably candid Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander. No one has the assets and expertise of BP. The federal government can fight wars, conduct a census and hand out billions in earmarks, but it has not a clue how to cap a one-mile-deep out-of-control oil well.
Obama didn't help much with his finger-pointing Rose Garden speech in which he denounced finger-pointing, then proceeded to blame everyone but himself. Even the grace note of admitting some federal responsibility turned sour when he reflexively added that these problems have been going on for a decade or more -- translation: Bush did it -- while, in contrast, his own interior secretary had worked diligently to solve the problem from the day he took office.
Really? Why hadn't we heard a thing about this? What about the September 2009 letter from Obama's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accusing Interior's Minerals Management Service of understating the "risk and impacts" of a major oil spill? When you get a blowout 15 months into your administration, and your own Interior Department had given BP a "categorical" environmental exemption in April 2009, the buck stops.
In the end, speeches will make no difference. If BP can cap the well in time to prevent an absolute calamity in the Gulf, the president will escape politically. If it doesn't -- if the gusher isn't stopped before the relief wells are completed in August -- it will become Obama's Katrina.
That will be unfair, because Obama is no more responsible for the damage caused by this than Bush was for the damage caused by Katrina. But that's the nature of American politics and its presidential cult of personality: We expect our presidents to play Superman. Helplessness, however undeniable, is no defense.
Moreover, Obama has never been overly modest about his own powers. Two years ago next week, he declared that history will mark his ascent to the presidency as the moment when "our planet began to heal" and "the rise of the oceans began to slow."
Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute, you mustnt be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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