Don't Just Do Something, Appear to Be Doing Something!

Let's face it: Pretty much nobody knows what to do about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To even begin to assess your options, you need very specialized knowledge that few people have, and even then it doesn't appear to be much help. This doesn't stop untrained political consultants and elected officials from criticizing President Obama. Take Rudy Guiliani:

[Obama] should have gone there, should have been there more than twice. He should have been leading the charge from the front. ... He should have brought in the best experts. He should have set up a team of independent advisers to be advising him directly.

OK, so he should have "taken control" and "brought in the best experts." Why didn't the White House think of that? Actually, they did -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu is leading just such a team. But James Carville also chimed in, saying the president should have "been involved" with the families of those who died after the oil rig exploded. Carville's colleague Mark Penn followed: 

The public is looking for direct and immediate action. ... [Obama] needs to get away from the posturing politicians and the environmentalists and get together with scientists, generals and big-time business people who have experience solving big logistical problems.

This situation is frustrating, I understand. But if you're going to get up and demand that the president take more action, it might be good to have at least some idea of what that "action" might be -- beyond just rounding up experts. Calling in "generals and big-time business people" isn't going to do much -- I doubt the CEO of Wal-Mart has any particular insight into stopping an underwater oil leak.

I suppose this is the eternal problem of punditry -- people are asked to speak about things about which they lack the remotest clue, and are rewarded for speaking with certainty. The expression "often wrong, but never in doubt" comes to mind. 

-- Paul Waldman

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