In the opening hours and days of an unanticipated event -- such as the current off-shore oil leak, usually not much can be reliably learned about the details of the intruding event -- but much can reliably be learned about the humans responding to it.
For example, on April 29, the ninth day of the crisis, and the first day that the White House -- in the person of the president -- publicly responded to the growing mess, key players made revealing comments. We don't yet know whether the administration is culpable of the charge that they were asleep at the switch for a week -- as The New York Times has already editorially charged (just as President Bush was seen to be in the first two to three days of the Katrina crisis).
But it was clear by the 29th that the administration was sensitive to that political danger and was starting to point accusatory fingers at British Petroleum. ABC news reported:
"Asked about the relationship between the U.S. government and British Petroleum, (Coast Guard) Admiral O'Hara referred to 'the professionalism of our partner, BP' and then corrected her use of the term 'partner.' 'Yeah,' said (the ever eloquent presidential spokesman Robert) Gibbs. 'They are not a partner,' said (Secretary of Homeland Security Janet) Napolitano. 'Bad choice of words,' said O'Hara, changing her description of BP to 'a responsible party.'
Note that the admiral is a career professional doubtlessly experienced with ocean currents, but obviously not alert to the ever-shifting political currents in which she found herself. From a professional, problem-solving point of view, BP was a partner with the Coast Guard in trying to fix the mess.
But while Gibbs and Napolitano may not be able to navigate a dingy across a yacht basin, as class-A politicians, they can see which way the political currents are moving, and quickly go with the flow -- or even try to make the wave that changes the flow.
A few days later on CNN's Sunday "State of the Union" show, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar didn't have to be told the new political facts of life. He jumped right in with this little gem: "Our job basically is to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum to carry out the responsibilities they have both under the law and contractually to move forward and stop this spill."
Within three days, British Petroleum's status had shifted from being a partner with the government to having its neck pinned to the ground by a federal government boot.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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