President Bush's harshest critics often described his look during moments of crisis as "deer in the headlights." After two years of Hope and Change, America has grown accustomed to President Obama's crisis face: eyes glazed over.
At his first press conference in 308 days, Obama fielded questions about the Gulf oil spill, immigration, the war in Afghanistan and the mounting outrage over Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak's job-trading allegations with a sluggishness bordering on geriatric. His aplomb was a bomb.
The commander-in-chief's mumbling, diffident tone contradicted the "I CARE" message of urgency that drifted across the teleprompter screen and rolled languidly off his tongue.
"I am angry and frustrated," he heaved. Rather unconvincingly. He was "singularly focused," he asserted. Rather distractedly. The president did manage to work up enough energy to condemn BP and then turned to a moment of obligatory self-aggrandizement: "I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."
How "on top" was he? Well, not enough to take the time on Thursday morning before his much-hyped appearance to nail down the details of how and why his Interior Department Chief of the Minerals Management Service Liz Birnbaum was no longer in office. "You're assuming it was a firing," Obama told reporters. "I don't yet know the circumstances." He explained that he was preoccupied with other matters and couldn't get ahold of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
When pressed to elaborate, he heaved again: "I don't know."
Then, addressing all the ignorant Americans who have failed to appreciate his rescue efforts, Obama mustered up a semblance of indignation: "Those who think we were either slow in our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred."
And this is the Obama definition of accountability: blaming everyone else for lacking the Ivy League-honed comprehension skills to see the greatness of his fortitude and foresight.
How high of a priority did his administration really make the post-spill cleanup? After droning on haltingly about the federal failure to form an "oil...tracking...flow...group," Obama admitted with a shrug: "There was a lag of several weeks that shouldn't have happened."
With more self-pity than compassion, Obama wrapped up the rare press conference with a disjointed, off-script ramble: