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Obama and oil rig management

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Obama and oil rig management
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It has several variations, but there's an old military adage that goes roughly, "When in trouble, when in doubt, run around in circles, jump and shout." A Navy officer explained that just the appearance of energetic activity might buy you enough time to think up a real solution.


President Barack Obama is under intense pressure to do something about the Gulf oil spill. Typical is MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "The president scares me. When is he actually going to do something?"

Do what, exactly?

One observer said that if Bill Clinton were still president he'd be so hands-on that he be down in the Gulf in a wet suit. This conjures up the unwelcome vision of Obama flapping around the deck of an oil rig in his swim fins, surfing jams and snorkel.

Political consultant James Carville had more detailed, if slightly more hysterical advice: "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to die down here."

Get down there and take control. Right. The U.S. government incident commander is Adm. Thad Allen, a career Coast Guard officer who oversaw the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. BP's top official is Doug Suttles, a University of Texas-trained engineer who has worked in oil exploration and drilling around the world.

Can you see Obama telling these two that he's taking over? "Don't worry. I was a community organizer." Of course, he has a certain amount of fallback expertise -- his political-science degree from Columbia.

And then there's his law degree from Harvard. But having turned Justice Department lawyers loose on BP, he's already exhausted the legal profession's one-weapon arsenal of crisis response.

We would hate to discourage anyone's midlife plans for a second career, but truly, it's a little late in the game for Obama to be taking up oil rig management.

There is, however, one thing he could try -- a vacation on the Gulf.

PR-wise, the first family's traditional vacation retreats, Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard, are probably out. It would invite endless invidious video comparisons between their pristine beaches and the oil-soaked sands of the Gulf.

A few weeks on the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida would help out the local merchants, show the locals that they were in this together with their president and generally generate the impression of "doing something."

There are great visuals for the president: Looking steely on the bridge of a Coast Guard cutter, listening intently to grizzled tool pushers drilling the relief wells, studying charts and blueprints spread out on the map table with Allen and Suttles. Very Churchillian.

Michelle could volunteer at a wildlife-rescue station, rinsing off oil-soaked pelicans. She could invite down Barbara Walters and "The View," and the women could exchange lighthearted banter while they washed cormorants.

Sasha and Malia would have to be careful about where on the beach they chose to play. Oil stains could flummox even the White House laundry. But they could hold a contest with their playmates for the best sand castle using unrefined petroleum.

And if that doesn't work, well, there's always "run around in circles, jump and shout." At least it will reassure Matthews, Carville and the others urging you to "do something."

-- McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.