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Anyone have Tony Hayward's BP number? Why Obama couldn't be bothered calling the CEO

June 11, 2010 |  2:12 am

Democrat president Barack Obama chats on the Oval Office telephone with someone other than BP's CEO Tony Hayward

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's boss will visit the gulf coast again next week to be seen asking after things concerning the nation's worst environmental disaster ever. This time, President Obama will stay overnight.

In politics, which of course the presidency is, a campaign's most valuable resource is not free rent for supporters, not the $750 million donated by oil companies, lobbyists, banks and individuals. The most precious resource is the politician's time. No wealthy insider can add to the finite 1,440 minutes in each day.

So, if Obama is investing an overnight, that shows he's really, really serious now about this ongoing oil spill.

Polls show Americans now seeing Obama less as the hopey-changey, swell-talking guy of 2007-08 but instead as a standard partisan Democrat. They are also more seriously disapproving of the White House CEO's handling of the spewing stuff. 

But now many are noting a curious but more ominous thing:

In the nearly eight weeks that the ancient oil has been escaping its subterranean imprisonment, Obama has found....

...time for a couple mini-vacations with golf, a dose of party fundraisers, healthcare town halls, TV interviews, a high school graduation, a festive White House lawn picnic with members of Congress, a Paul McCartney music hoedown, an ABC July 4th TV taping and a session with a key Palestinian leader.

Thursday Obama issued important statements celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau and King Kamehameha Day, and mustn't forget, Portugal Day.

Democrat president Barack Barack Obama points at Louisiana sand for photographers

But Obama hasn't found a few minutes to chat with Tony Hayward, the talkative CEO of BP, the petroleum protagonist in this environmental drama. Not even on the president's ubiquitous, magically-secure BlackBerry.

Almost eight weeks. What's he afraid of? It took less than two weeks to set up last summer's historic beer summit.

Now, in a confrontational letter a White House official has invited Hayward to meet there next week with Obama aides and the boss would stop by. That will be nine weeks.

As RealClearPolitics' brilliant Tom Bevan noted, the real question is not can Obama handle an urgent 3 A.M. call anymore; it's why hasn't Obama initiated one to Hayward? Here's the excuse Obama gave NBC's Matt Lauer earlier this week:

I have not spoken to him directly – and here’s the reason: because my experience is when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.

The Harvard-educated inquiring legal mind doesn't need to talk to someone because he knows what they're going to say? The president who took four months of meetings to figure out his second Afghan troop surge doesn't appreciate words? BP CEO Tony Hayward

An incredulous Lauer pressed Obama, who also said he was looking for some "ass to kick." Obama replied:

"Look, this has been the main critique of the administration, is “giving a piece of my mind” to these guys. Look, I would love to vent. I would love to just shout and holler because I’m thinking about this day in and day out. But my main job is to solve the problem."

But you know what? Truthfully, that's not the main critique at all. The main critique is Obama's constant reaction to crises like a campaigning pol, not like an elected leader.

This is silly simple to have to do, but if solving the problem really is the president's Job One, here's a hypothetical Obama-Hayward conversation the day after the leak began:

PRESIDENT: "Tony? Barack here. I'm terribly sorry about the loss of your people down in the gulf. That's awful. But listen, Rahm tells me we've got a pretty darned serious new problem down there right now. Well, Rahm used other words. But you get the point.

"And it could be August before that stuff stops leaking. I know my Justice Department has launched a criminal probe and your lawyers are probably listening in nervously right now. (Nervous laughter).

"But, look, why don't we let the investigation find whatever it finds later? We may be kicking your company's ass in public someday.

"But right now, I'd like to make you an offer you can't refuse. From a legal and PR point of view, it's to your short and long-term advantage and the nation's advantage and, Lord knows, the wildlife's advantage -- and, let's be real here, mine too -- to get this spill stopped asap. This is new territory for all of us. I and my people propose to publicly work and speak with you and your people jointly for now to make that happen and get this job done as quickly as humanly possible. What do you say?"

HAYWARD: "Yes, sir."

To be fair, there is a political price to such a practical ploy. A politician like Obama would have to forfeit, for now, having another corporate suit to blame as the bad guy.

But it would be leadership.

Related Item:

Obama wants Americans to vacation on the gulf coast. So, will he?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Pete Souza / White House (file, Obama on his Oval Office phone and desk); Associated Press (Obama points out sand to photographers on a previous gulf visit); John D. McHugh / AFP / Getty Images (Hayward).

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