Obama's Summer Homework

To get back on track before autumn, the president has to sweat the small stuff. Here's how.

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President Barack Obama did the most CEO-like thing he's ever done on Tuesday: He under-promised and over-delivered. And if he plans to get reelected in 2012, that's what he'll keep doing.

Having lowered the bar for himself by first taking a by-the-numbers overnight visit to the Gulf Coast and then delivering a hum-drum national address from the Oval Office, Obama made news by announcing a concrete deliverable: A commitment from BP to compensate economic victims of the oil gusher that resulted from the April 20 explosion at its Deepwater Horizon off-shore well with a $20 billion escrow and $100 million to compensate laid-off oil crews.

As the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan writes, for folks on the Gulf Coast, that's "getting shit done."

Prominent congressional Republicans called the deal a "shakedown." An Economist editorial argued that Obama is "cementing business leaders' impression that he is indifferent to their concerns." But Bloomberg Businessweek's Ann Woolner suggests a win-win: "For a shakedown, this one came with terms that aren't especially difficult." BP stays afloat while putting aside $5 billion a year for four years, and its stock price leveled-off in the week after the deal was announced.

It's a heavy-handed move, no doubt. But even Fox News skeptic Bill O'Reilly took Obama's side, telling his vast cable TV audience that "Mr. Obama was correct in bringing pressure on the company to pony up the money." Perhaps most notably, 82 percent of Americans like the deal.

How did Obama get his first good headlines in the Gulf crisis? By sweating the small stuff. In his speech, he downplayed cap-and-trade, to the chagrin of progressives. But the BP deal was something doable that boosted public confidence, however slightly. Instead of hitting a home run, Obama stole a base and grabbed the low-hanging fruit. It's a cliché, but "money talks."

Yes, oil is still pouring into the Gulf. But the $20 billion was an easy win -- the kind The White House needs more of this summer in order to recalibrate the president's relationship with the shareholders of the United States, also known as voters. Here are five other ways Obama can spend his summer:

Take a "Staycation"

Now that goes double. With an ongoing recession, it does the first family no good to look like they're living lavishly while everyone else is struggling. If they really need to get away, they ought to avoid the Vineyard, the Hamptons, and Hawai'i, and instead pay a visit to a Gulf Coast resort -- play a little blackjack, ride the Ferris wheel and help locals try to bring the tourists back.