Last week, Maureen Dowd wrote that Obama hasn't been doing enough to appear angry about the oil spill. He needed to making more angry faces. She said that he looked beleaguered, rather than commanding. "Obama wanted to be a transformative president and now the presidency is transforming him…. Instead of buoyant, he seems put upon. Instead of the fairy dust of hopefulness, there’s the bitter draught of helplessness."
A couple of days later, Obama canceled his trip to Indonesia and complained that the pundits were all wrong. He WAS doing stuff. He said to Matt Lauer, "this is not theater." This sentiment was echoed around the blogosphere who mocked Dowd for dumbing down politics.
But you know what? Politics IS theater. Appearances matter. They always have. Machiavelli explained that a good prince had to tread an important line between action and appearance. Presidents, like princes, have to appear strong, confident, and commanding. Power is fragile. It is based on appearances, as well as actual action.
People hate that BP CEO, Tony Haywood. They want him publicly flogged. They want to see images of Obama wading through polluted shores.
Obama was slow to figure this out. He's going to have to make up for lost time. A lot of people will be tuning into his oval office speech tonight.