President Obama's announcement that BP would set aside $20 billion in a fund for victims of the Gulf spill is a welcome relief to communities where businesses and homes have been destroyed. The total amount needed to compensate, however, is being estimated at closer to $60 billion. Obama swears the $20 billion is not a cap—I guess we'll see.
More to the point: since the president had no legal basis to demand the set-aside, on what basis did he extract those billions? It's called the power of the president. It just goes to show what you can do when you've got the top job.
Linked to the "bully pulpit," the US president is the leader of the richest country in the world—twice as rich as China—with the biggest market finance capital of the world. Talk about clout. Most of the time that clout is used to enrich, well, the rich who kick some back to politicians who play the game.
But the president—finally—used his muscle to get something done for those the chair of the BP board called the "small people." People in need.
Imagine if President Obama had used his power to stop government layoffs? Or prod Congress into some new taxes? Get Congress to raise taxes on hedge funds and commercial real estate over 15 percent, for example—closer to the 35 percent taxation rate we all pay?
There's so much to do to get people back to work, or keep people on the job, and yet the president holds back his power of the president. Wield that baton, Mr. President. That's what makes presidents great.