Now is Obama’s moment of truth

President Barack Obama’s success in creating a $20 billion escrow fund from BP, to be distributed under the leadership of the widely respected Ken Feinberg, is the most profoundly positive executive action since the beginning of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis.


Now, the president should take the offensive and create a wartime mentality throughout his administration’s response to the crisis.

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The president should consider naming James Baker, former White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan, as his take charge crisis manager to “crack the whip” throughout the disparate and slow-moving army of those responding to the oil spill catastrophe, and to help manage and aggressively implement assistance from other oil companies and other nations that have offered to help.

The president should ask former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell to work with military leaders to devise action plan options to reinforce the oil spill forces with military support.

The president should demand full public disclosure of all information, on all fronts, from BP and move to end all restrictions BP has imposed on the media. The more truth that comes out, the better. And the sooner, the better.

The president should demand and achieve full technical and scientific disclosure of information about the amount and use of chemical dispersants that might well pose a far more extreme danger to health and safety than is currently understood.

The president should escalate his energy policy initiatives to the “equivalent of war” urgency the energy crisis has required, but not received, for four decades. It was a mistake for the president in his speech to appear to preemptively surrender on cap and trade without getting anything of substance in return through negotiations.

It is fine for the president to quote John F. Kennedy about going to the moon, but it would be even better for the president to emulate Kennedy in a bold and far-reaching alternative energy plan that would be comparable to the moon shot program, especially if the end result of discussions in Congress is a trade-off of major cap-and-trade initiatives.

It is stale and irrelevant for the president to keep referring to his secretary of energy as “Nobel Laureate.” It would be far more helpful for the president to mobilize leading companies to work with the best minds of the nation to win future Nobel Prizes by developing the electric car, 100 MPG cars and new energy sources.

Lets establish a 100 percent capital gains tax holiday for investors in firms that mass market electric cars, or cars achieving 100 MPG, within five years and for investors in firms that mass produce solar and wind energy within five years? Lets seek a global consortium of nations for a pooled effort to transform global energy development and lift the global economy by creating the jobs wave of the future that new cars and new energy sources would create?

President Obama should clearly understand what has gone wrong with the administration response during the first two months of the crisis and how his success in creating the escrow fund can lead to other successes and become a historic inflection point for his presidency.

There remains a command-and-control crisis throughout the management of this crisis. The president is right in comparing the oil spill crisis to war, but his response until now has been far too deferential to BP, far too slow in responding to important requests and good advice from political and business leaders in the gulf coast states and far too focused on public relations rather than imaginative leadership and bold executive action.

The president does not need to get angry. He needs to get tough, focused, energized and bold in deeds as well as words.

The $20 billion escrow fund is a major step. The naming of Ken Feinberg to manage the distribution of the money is an inspired choice. Feinberg is a tough, disciplined and compassionate manager. His presence will bring a much needed morale boost to the affected states and a long overdue infusion of fairness and professionalism in the distribution of the money.

The president would win broad bipartisan support bringing in heavy hitters such as James Baker and Colin Powell. He would rally the nation with truly historic new energy proposals. He would create discipline in the spill response, boost the morale of the American people and leave legacy in history by learning from his mistakes and marching forward boldly.

FDR had his moment. JFK had his. This is Obama’s moment of truth, with great hardship and challenge only beginning as the oil reaches shore. This great crisis creates a great opportunity for President Obama, if he rises to the occasion and makes this tragedy a legacy moment for his presidency.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net