On Hardball: Obama Too Cautious About Exerting His Power

Newsweek's Howard Fineman, on Monday's Hardball, pushed Barack Obama to "overdo" and "overstep" in his efforts to get BP to plug the leak and stop the oil spill in the Gulf, something Fineman claimed Obama hadn't done yet because "he's usefully and rightfully dangerous about power. I think he thought...George W. Bush overstepped in terms of executive power...he's an observer by nature." This observation from Fineman seems particularly odd, as it comes at the same time the President has pushed for a $50 billion in additional domestic spending.

Fineman made the comment after the Politico's Roger Simon insisted there's only so much Obama can do, as he insisted: "He's not Iron Man. He cannot dive a mile underwater and stop this by himself." However host Chris Matthews asserted Obama could do more and he asked if the President will be "tough" and "really threaten BP" and openly wondered: "Does he know he's a powerful man?" After Fineman responded that Obama needs to "overstep" a concerned Matthews questioned: "Even at the risk of being called a socialist again?"

The following exchanges were aired on the June 14 edition of Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I guess the first question is can this president honestly claim he has command and control when it looks like BP is the boss?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: No, he can't. And he said in the interview that "We analyzed the problem and we had no greater ability to stop the leak than BP did, so we're gonna let BP do it." And he can't control BP.

MATTHEWS: Well looking down the road is BP going to be the big shot, and he's going to be, as I call him, the Vatican observer watching them do what they do? And that's all he can do.

SIMON: All he can do is threaten them. All he can do is send the attorney general down there. All he can do is threaten to, to depress their stock price to such an extent they'll go belly up. But that's all he can do. He's not Iron Man. He cannot dive a mile underwater and stop this by himself.


MATTHEWS: Howard, the question I have is what can he do? I'm looking back to history. I'm a political person, not an oil person, as we all are. Harry Truman, the coal miners wouldn't mine coal after World War II. He, he conscripted them all. He drafted them. When Big Steel raised its prices and sort of, Kennedy felt was screwing them, basically, he said "Okay I'm sending the IRS to your house. I'm gonna see if you got any, any action with your secretaries at work." He was unbelievable! He went after them and said, "Bob McNamara don't buy any more steel from U.S. Steel." I mean he was unbelievable. Will this president be that tough? Will he threaten, really threaten BP with all the actions of an Executive?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Well if he, if he does he'll only be dragged kicking and screaming into it because that's just Barack Obama's nature. He's judicious.

MATTHEWS: Does he know he's a powerful man?

FINEMAN: He's, he's an observer. I think he's usefully and rightfully dangerous about power. I think he thought George Bush, George W. Bush overstepped in terms of executive power. And it's also, he's an observer by nature. But before I continue I just want to say that Roger, whom I've known for decades, is the best in the business and we're so happy to have him back. And, and he's seen this before. He's seen presidents who use power or don't use power. If you don't use it, you lose it. Barack Obama should overdo. He should overstep.

MATTHEWS: Even at the risk of being called a socialist again?

FINEMAN: Even at the risk, yeah even at the risk of having a lawsuit filed against him. The Army should be in there. The Navy should be in there.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.