There are JJPers who can’t stand to hear any criticism of the President of any kind– it’s too threatening. Yet we do him no favors in turning a blind eye when he could do better. As a people, we owe it to him to be honest. To defend him against unfair and racist attacks. To tell him where we need help most. To support strong initiatives that will benefit all Americans. To congratulate him on jobs well done or speeches that help propel the national consciousness forward. To get out and vote when it counts most.

But above all, I believe that those who love, admire and support him the most must be willing to tell the President when he’s slipping or heading in a direction that endangers his power & prestige and that will hinder our shared Hope for a stronger, freer, safer and more prosperous United States. Because the President is the kind of leader who listens carefully. You can’t lead if you don’t pay attention to those following you. Why? Because Change doesn’t happen overnight and can’t happen alone.

The President this week worked hard to overcome decreasing confidence in America in his leadership 5 weeks into the oil spill. Frankly I’d give the BP press conference a A-. The president’s opening remarks came off to me as a bit defensive and failed to acknowledge the serious problems with the response that partly fall on his administration’s shoulders. I thought the press questions were actually pretty gentle yet persistent. The Prez is at his best answering questions and I thought he really shone there and mostly responded with clear, honest answers that took responsibility for improving the response to the spill. For someone like me who has been following the oil spill closely, this was actually reassuring. I don’t want to be fed a pretty fairy tale about how everything is fine and going well – the evidence is in that it’s not. And most Americans feel similarly it seems, even while putting most of the blame on BP.

Obama had a big fresh tar-ball turd from the public on his plate re: the oil spill to clear, one which threatened his rep big time:

In the five weeks since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, Obama had largely escaped political fallout. But as BP attempts yet again to seal the leak, a new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds a majority of Americans unhappy with Obama’s handling of the spill. According to the poll, 53 percent rate Obama’s handling “poor” or “very poor”; 43 percent believe Obama is doing a good job.

Yet the poll also finds that the public tends to blame others in the mess more than it blames the White House. Asked  broadly about the federal government’s role, 60 percent rated the response “poor.” BP got the lowest marks: 73 percent of Americans gave the company’s handling of the spill a “poor” rating.

What I wanted to hear was that he was taking some responsibility for shortcomings in preventing the disaster and in the response, that he felt the anguish of the American people and the outrage over BP’s behavior and that he was going to be there for the people and wildlife of the Gulf both now and into the future. Overall, I think he accomplished that although I think this is going to require more of his public presence until the oil stops leaking at a minimum and a continued tough stance on the oil industry.

Here are some quotes from the press conference that I think might be of interest to JJPers following the spill. Transcript via RealClearPolitics (thanks! emphasis mine)

From Jake Tapper on criticism of inadequate federal response:

Q Thanks, Mr. President. You say that everything that could be done is being done, but there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that’s not true. Governor Jindal obviously had this proposal for a barrier. They say that if that had been approved when they first asked for it, they would have 10 miles up already. There are fishermen down there who want to work, who want to help, haven’t been trained, haven’t been told to go do so. There are industry experts who say that they’re surprised that tankers haven’t been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in ’93 outside Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, there’s the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help and it’s only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico. How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these experts and all these officials saying that’s not true?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me distinguish between — if the question is, Jake, are we doing everything perfectly out there, then the answer is absolutely not. We can always do better. If the question is, are we, each time there is an idea, evaluating it and making a decision, is this the best option that we have right now, based on how quickly we can stop this leak and how much damage can we mitigate — then the answer is yes.

[...]

Now, it’s going to be entirely possible in a operation this large that mistakes are made, judgments prove to be wrong; that people say in retrospect, you know, if we could have done that or we did that, this might have turned out differently — although in a lot of cases it may be speculation. But the point that I was addressing from Jennifer was, does this administration maintain a constant sense of urgency about this, and are we examining every recommendation, every idea that’s out there, and making our best judgment as to whether these are the right steps to take, based on the best experts that we know of. And on that answer, the answer is yes — or on that question, the answer is yes.

On BP’s lies about the extent of the spill and their reluctance to share their camera feed:

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Julianna.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. We’re learning today that the oil has been gushing as much as five times the initial estimates. What does that tell you and the American people about the extent to which BP can be trusted on any of the information that it’s providing, whether the events leading up to the spill, any of their information?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, BP’s interests are aligned with the public interest to the extent that they want to get this well capped. It’s bad for their business. It’s bad for their bottom line. They’re going to be paying a lot of damages, and we’ll be staying on them about that. So I think it’s fair to say that they want this thing capped as badly as anybody does and they want to minimize the damage as much as they can.

I think it is a legitimate concern to question whether BP’s interests in being fully forthcoming about the extent of the damage is aligned with the public interest. I mean, their interests may be to minimize the damage, and to the extent that they have better information than anybody else, to not be fully forthcoming. So my attitude is we have to verify whatever it is they say about the damage.

This is an area, by the way, where I do think our efforts fell short. And I’m not contradicting my prior point that people were working as hard as they could and doing the best that they could on this front. But I do believe that when the initial estimates came that there were — it was 5,000 barrels spilling into the ocean per day, that was based on satellite imagery and satellite data that would give a rough calculation. At that point, BP already had a camera down there, but wasn’t fully forthcoming in terms of what did those pictures look like. And when you set it up in time-lapse photography, experts could then make a more accurate determination. The administration pushed them to release it, but they should have pushed them sooner. I mean, I think that it took too long for us to stand up our flow-tracking group that has now made these more accurate ranges of calculation.

Now, keep in mind that that didn’t change what our response was. As I said from the start, we understood that this could be really bad. We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. And so there aren’t steps that would have taken in terms of trying to cap the well, or skimming the surface, or the in-situ burns, or preparing to make sure when this stuff hit shore that we could minimize the damage — all those steps would have been the same even if we had information that this flow was coming out faster.

And eventually, we would have gotten better information because, by law, the federal government, if it’s going to be charging BP for the damage that it causes, is going to have to do the best possible assessment. But there was a lag of several weeks that I think shouldn’t have happened.

On MMS & Ken Salazar’s failure to prevent this from happening in the first place:

When it comes to prior to this accident happening, I think there was a lack of anticipating what the worst-case scenarios would be. And that’s a problem. And part of that problem was lodged in MMS and the way that that agency was structured. That was the agency in charge of providing permitting and making decisions in terms of where drilling could take place, but also in charge of enforcing the safety provisions. And as I indicated before, the IG report, the Inspecter General’s report that came out, was scathing in terms of the problems there.

And when Ken Salazar came in, he cleaned a lot of that up. But more needed to be done, and more needs to be done, which is part of the reason why he separated out the permitting function from the functions that involve enforcing the various safety regulations.

But I think on a whole bunch of fronts, you had a complacency when it came to what happens in the worst-case scenario.

[...]

Well, let me just make the point that I made earlier, which is Salazar came in and started cleaning house, but the culture had not fully changed in MMS. And absolutely I take responsibility for that. There wasn’t sufficient urgency in terms of the pace of how those changes needed to take place.There’s no evidence that some of the corrupt practices that had taken place earlier took place under the current administration’s watch. But a culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted without sufficient oversight and regulation — that was a real problem. Some of it was constraints of the law, as I just mentioned, but we should have busted through those constraints.

Now, with respect to Ms. Birnbaum, I found out about her resignation today. Ken Salazar has been in testimony throughout the day, so I don’t know the circumstances in which this occurred. I can tell you what I’ve said to Ken Salazar, which is that we have to make sure, if we are going forward with domestic oil production, that the federal agency charged with overseeing its safety and security is operating at the highest level. And I want people in there who are operating at the highest level and aren’t making excuses when things break down, but are intent on fixing them. And I have confidence that Ken Salazar can do that.

From opening remarks and what you can do to help:

We’re also doing whatever it takes to help the men and women whose livelihoods have been disrupted and even destroyed by this spill — everyone from fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners. So far the Small Business Administration has approved loans and allowed many small businesses to defer existing loan payments. At our insistence, BP is paying economic injury claims, and we’ll make sure that when all is said and done, the victims of this disaster will get the relief that they are owed. We’re not going to abandon our fellow citizens. We’ll help them recover and we will help them rebuild.

And in the meantime, I should also say that Americans can help by continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf Coast. I was talking to the governors just a couple of days ago, and they wanted me to remind everybody that except for three beaches in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s beaches are open. They are safe and they are clean.

[...]

If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation. It’s time to accelerate the competition with countries like China, who have already realized the future lies in renewable energy. And it’s time to seize that future ourselves. So I call on Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with my administration, to answer this challenge once and for all.

I’ll close by saying this: This oil spill is an unprecedented disaster. The fact that the source of the leak is a mile under the surface, where no human being can go, has made it enormously difficult to stop. But we are relying on every resource and every idea, every expert and every bit of technology, to work to stop it. We will take ideas from anywhere, but we are going to stop it.

And I know that doesn’t lessen the enormous sense of anger and frustration felt by people on the Gulf and so many Americans. Every day I see this leak continue I am angry and frustrated as well. I realize that this entire response effort will continue to be filtered through the typical prism of politics, but that’s not what I care about right now. What I care about right now is the containment of this disaster and the health and safety and livelihoods of our neighbors in the Gulf Coast. And for as long as it takes, I intend to use the full force of the federal government to protect our fellow citizens and the place where they live. I can assure you of that.

(photo: Reuters)

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