Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama's Moby Dick Moment

In the Oil Spill, the President is sounding like Ishmael but Americans want him to act more like Ahab.

“My power is not limitless," he told Gulf residents before The Speech last night. "I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

That exasperation is reflected in postmortems of his attempt to take political charge of an unmanageable mess that has inspired parallels with Melville's saga of human hubris, a relentless search for oil leading to self-destruction in the ocean's depths.

The President's problem now is that the public expects him to match in his response some of the maniacal passion that led BP to endanger the environment and economy, but such acting out is neither in his nature or the realities of a situation that requires the perpetrator to clean up the scene of an ongoing crime.

As estimates of its output grow, the gush goes on as a continuing image of American impotence no matter how hard the White House pushes BP to stop it and/or put up the money to pay for years of cleanup to come.

Nobody is going to write a happy ending for this 21st century version of "Moby Dick." After his litany of efforts to respond last night, the President was reduced to prayer with "our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it."

Meanwhile, some members of Congress have been reaching for "something better" out of the Spill by dumping their shares of BP on the stock market.

Like members of the Pequod crew, they are grabbing for anything that might keep them afloat as the ship goes down.

Update: After meeting with the President, BP's Chairman discovers they share an empathy, “He's frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. I hear comments that sometimes large oil companies are greedy companies that don't care. But that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people."

Just about as much as Ahab cared about the small people below his decks.

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