The BP oil disaster has been a divisive issue, but on one thing we’re all pretty much agreed:

President Obama doesn’t give good mad.

For week after week, critics from Sarah Palin to James Carville have been exhorting him to lose it, to scream and yell and get red in the face and set his hair on fire. This, they feel, would show that he really cares (as nothing he’s done so far has).

Well, he’s tried. You have to give him that–he’s tried. He’s gone down to the Gulf Coast and met with citizens and spoken harsh words to BP, the oil company responsible for the mess. If I’m not mistaken he’s even stamped his foot once or twice.

Then he told the nation that BP better watch out because he was forming a commission and it would have recommendations. And if that wasn’t terrifying enough, he was going to make BP pay every dime the spill has cost citizens along the coast and recapture 90 percent of the oil already spilled.

All good, to be sure, but on an anger scale it barely moved the needle above the level of a Mr. Rogers show.

It got me to thinking: How would other presidents have reacted to a multinational corporation based in a foreign country using our coastline for a toxic dump?

Take Ronald Reagan, for example. I’m sure that by this time they would have set him up in front of the cameras on a Mississippi beach, flanked by a pair of American flags with the oil slick behind him as a backdrop. And he’d say: “Mr. Hayward, suck up this oil.” Or words to that effect.

Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, would have addressed the nation from the Oval Office (as President Obama did). He might have said:

“I am asking all of you to go to your church or synagogue or mosque or ashram, whatever, and pray for deliverance from this plague of oil. In addition I suggest that you get a length of yellow ribbon, dip it in oil–something you drain from your crankcase is fine–and tie it to a tree near your house. After all, it worked in the Iran hostage crisis.”

Bill Clinton–He shows up unannounced at a Louisiana town meeting in his country clothes, puts his arm around the shoulders of the nearest shrimp fisherman, and says: “I feel your pain brother. I just want you to know that we’re here for you. To help things along I’m leaving my wife Hillary here–there she is over there in her wading boots and rubber jacket–and she’ll be here 24/7 for the next few months. You got a problem, talk to her. I’ll miss you, hon.”

George W. Bush–He flies over the Gulf in Air Force One, looks out the window and says: “What oil spill? I don’t see any oil spill, just a lot of brown water like we’ve got in the Red River back in Texas. Personally, I think that Tony Hayward is doing a heckuva job. Beside, Dick Cheney says that oil in the drinking water is good for the teeth.”

Richard Nixon comes on TV and says: “I want to be very clear about this. I made a mistake. I left too many Democrats in charge of the Interior Department when I took over from the previous Democrat administration. I should have known better but I let my natural compassion get the better of me and this is the thanks I get. Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I am hereby getting rid of every last Democrat without union protection in the federal bureaucracy. We’re going to bring honesty back to government whether they like it or not.”

Some of those might have worked, some not, but one thing is sure. They’d have been as effective in stopping the oil leak as Obama has been.

Not very.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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