Should Obama have called BP executive Tony Hayward?

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June 8 2010 8:14 PM

Phoney Question

Should Obama have called BP executive Tony Hayward?

Read Slate's complete coverage of the BP oil spill. 

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A phone call can send a message. But the messages Obama wants to convey to BP are more powerful when made in public. The time has passed for the low-grade spin of a phone call. Obama scoffs at the demand that he vent, but it's not that he doesn't want to do it. He's already tried and it didn't work. Three weeks ago in the Rose Garden, he chastised company executives for finger-pointing. Showing anger at BP executives in front of the cameras puts public pressure on BP, shows the government isn't too close to the company, and shows the public that the president is doing something. His public warning to press BP not to "nickel and dime" Gulf area residents is a good sound-bite example.

In a crisis, the silly duties of the presidency go from merely annoying to threatening, because they distract from fixing the problem. Another such distraction will no doubt arise over the location of the president's summer vacation. If Obama vacations in Martha's Vineyard as he has before, critics will pounce. He's not on the job and not heeding his own travel advice, which has been that families should vacation in the Gulf. He has made the pitch that the waters are safe during his emergency visits. Why not send a stronger message by vacationing there himself? The president will have to decide whether this is a silly question that can be ignored or an ad-hoc ritual that must be performed. In the end, it's his call.

Click here  to view a slide show of presidents taking important phone calls.


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