On Wednesday, the same day President Barack Obama ousted his humiliated Afghanistan commander, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs walked into the Oval Office with more grim news: The cap on the gushing oil in the Gulf had been dislodged.
“What?” Obama replied incredulously. “Well, why did it do that?” A remotely operated vehicle had knocked the cap right off, he was told, leaving oil rushing out as furiously as ever.
“Let me get this straight,” Obama later told senior adviser David Axelrod. “A robot knocked off the Top Hat? Come on, guys. Are you kidding me?”
Welcome to what one exhausted adviser calls the “theater of the absurd,” where a White House is whipsawed by wild, almost unimaginable events that threaten to reshape the public perception of the Obama presidency at every turn.
In the week leading up to the Gibbs visit, the president had delivered an Oval Office address that was panned by liberal pundits; forced BP to cough up $20 billion for claims from the oil disaster; and watched with delight as Joe Barton apologized to BP (a company with a 6 percent approval rating) — only to learn from a PDF copy of a Rolling Stone article that he would have to fire Gen. Stan McChrystal for popping off about Obama’s war cabinet. Oh, yeah, he then replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus — the mastermind of an Iraq surge Obama did not support, and the man many Republicans want to challenge Obama for the White House in 2012.