Rahm Emanuel’s No Dummy

Four days after the oil spill began, North Carolina children try to catch a glimpse of President Obama as he plays golf.ABC’s Jake Tapper reports on his own interview with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who shows he’s no dummy when it comes to avoiding PR traps:

“…Host Jake Tapper asked for Emanuel’s reaction to new photos of [BP’s Tony] Hayward sailing on his yacht today in the waters off the coast of Britain.

‘Well, to quote Tony Hayward, he’s got his life back, as he would say,’ Emanuel said with a smile. ‘And I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting. This has just been part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes.’

‘But, beyond that photo,’ Emanuel explained, ‘there’s really a substance here that matters. That’s clearly a PR mistake, but he’s made a number of those mistakes. What’s important is: are we capping the well? Are we capturing the oil? Are we containing the cleanup? Are we filing the claims? Are we also cleaning up the mess? That’s what’s important.’

Emanuel said the new Hayward photos would be ‘fodder’ and that ‘people will chew over this,’ but he insisted that important thing was ‘dealing with the problems down in the well and dealing with the problems in the region.’

Emanuel said it is ‘important for the people [to get] the resources they need to restore their lives and restoring that coastline to its environmental purity it had at one point.’”…

Although all the media reports I’ve seen save this one focus on the first part of Emanuel’s comments, those about Hayward’s PR misstep, note that Emanuel cleverly sees and lays down a defense for the obvious followup: If it is a bad idea for Tony Hayward to attend a yacht race, what kind of idea is it for President Obama to go on repeated vacations, host rock stars, play golf, etc. etc.?

My own view on executive downtime is strongly in favor of a reasonable amount of it, though I still say President Obama — and now CEO Hayward — should follow the lead of Vice President Biden by keeping it low-key and non-luxurious in times of crisis. Giving people a sense that you’re on the job is one of the components of leadership, as it helps instill confidence. With a CNN poll showing 59 percent disapproval of the President’s handling of the Gulf spill, it’s clear the President has room for improvement.

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