As the Gulf of Mexico slowly fills with crude oil and burned-off dolphin faces, forcing executives of British Petroleum to move their extra houses to the Pacific coast, an increasing number of Americans are putting the blame squarely where it belongs: on President Obama’s emotional experience. At least that’s what the news tells me. While attempts to cast the Deepwater Horizon spill as Obama’s Katrina foundered on the rocks of that makes no goddamn sense at all, the narrative that the President has displayed insufficient anger at the disaster has found a lot more traction. “Since The BP Oil Spill Began, President Obama Has Been Trying to Convey Presidential Action and Concern; But Is He Showing Enough Emotion?” CBS News asks.* Aside from the baffling meta-semantic demand that the President “convey Presidential action,” CBS pretty much captures the signature elements of the narrative. First, the President can’t really do anything. Second, if he doesn’t act more pissed off, people are going to think he doesn’t care. It’s an argument that presumes that Obama’s response to the disaster is reasonable, and also that people are too stupid to recognize it as such.
One of two narratives describes the Obama presidency, and if you tell me which one is true I can tell you which 24-hour news network you watch. Either President Barack Hussein Obama is a nouveau socialist whose cult of personality has allowed him to expand federal power to an unprecedented degree, or the Republican minority in Congress has put politics ahead of the best interests of the country and paralyzed the Hill with unrelenting obstructionism. We here at Combat! would never tell you what to believe,* but only one of these narratives has been fleshed out with a lot of scenes. Two weeks ago, Senate Republicans finally released the hold they had placed on Martha Johnson, the woman President Obama nominated seven months ago to head the General Services Administration. If you’ve never heard of the GSA, it’s probably because you are not a wholesale distributor of toilet paper and cleaning supplies; the agency’s primary task is to oversee the day-to-day maintenance of the Capitol and related buildings. Johnson was eventually confirmed with a vote of 94-2, suggesting that she was perhaps not such a controversial nominee after all. While an extreme example, she was just one of dozens of qualified applicants on whose nominations the GOP has placed holds, whether to ransom them for pet projects or out of a spirit of general dicketry. While calling the Republicans obstructionists seems unfair—they are the opposition party, after all—the discrepancy between their principled objections and their voting records is beginning to suggest that they’re playing politics, not government.