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Obama's Crucible: Oil Spill Isn't His 'Katrina' -- Yet

3 years ago
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Nobody has had much positive to say about President Obama's handling of the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the highest-intensity rants are coming from members of his own party. Whether he suffers long-term political damage has a lot to do with how soon the oil stops spewing, how quickly the environment can be repaired and whether Obama's cool governing style continues to hold appeal.

The numbers right now aren't good for Obama or anyone in charge of an impossibly complex, dangerous, unnerving and environmentally consequential catastrophe. Several polls show a majority of the public disapproves of the way Obama is handling the spill. Still, in the latest, a USA Today-Gallup poll, the president does better than BP and the federal government (53 percent said he is doing a poor or very poor job, compared with six in 10 for the feds and nearly three-quarters for BP).

President ObamaIs this "Obama's Katrina"? Karl Rove and other Republicans are promoting this talking point, but it's unclear if it will take hold. The most damaging political developments are those that reinforce an existing impression of a leader. So Hurricane Katrina was George W. Bush's "Katrina" because much of the public already believed the Bush administration had bungled the Iraq war. The hurricane aftermath reinforced the perception of incompetence. Similarly, when Dan Quayle prompted a child to add an "e" to the word potato, it reinforced the idea -- fair or not -- that he wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Obama is widely viewed as smart and his administration has not been branded incompetent. Still, there is an emerging narrative that could damage Obama if it sticks. While polls suggest the public perceives him as empathetic, cable chatter often focuses on his alleged detachment and inability to connect. The BP crisis has provided considerable fodder for that story line.
"There's a perception that he hasn't shown strong leadership, that he hasn't stepped up to the plate. He talks about leadership more than he demonstrates it," says Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. He adds: "You can't keep telling people 'I'm the guy in charge but everybody else is to blame.' "
Ironically, two customary allies of the White House -- Democratic consultant James Carville and MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews -- are among Obama's loudest critics. Carville, a Louisiana native now living in New Orleans, vented repeatedly in the days leading up to Obama's Thursday press conference about the administration's "lackadaisical" response and "political stupidity."

"I have no idea of why they didn't seize this thing. I have no idea why their attitude was so hands-offy here. It's just unbelievable," a fired-up Carville said Wednesday on ABC. "He just looks like he's not involved in this. You got to get down here and take control of this -- put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here." Later that day, Obama announced he'd make a second visit to the Gulf on Friday.

Carville and Matthews have wondered why Obama was not engaging with the families of the dead and people who've lost their livelihoods; why he hadn't sent scientists from Woods Hole and other experts to the coast; why he hadn't marshaled technology and tankers from all the oil companies operating in the United States to help stop and clean up the spill. Matthews, offering cold comfort, has said the Gulf spill is less like Katrina than the drip-drip of the Iran hostage crisis that finished off Jimmy Carter's presidency.

As he waited Thursday for Obama's press conference to start, Matthews said the potential for lasting environmental damage is more important than a presidency, but Obama hasn't acted like it. "He doesn't seem to be taking ownership," Matthews said. "Presidents must seize control when something like this happens. This is big-time and he hasn't acted like it's big-time."

Obama tried to seize that control -- or at least improve the PR optics -- at the end of his press conference, when he said this: "My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands, this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about. The spill. . . . And it's not just me, by the way. When I woke up this morning, and I'm shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, 'Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?' "

There was no mercy for Carter when he said he had talked to his young daughter Amy about nuclear proliferation, but Obama's disclosure of his conversation with Malia impressed Matthews and MSNBC political editor Chuck Todd. "Talk about a sound bite," Matthews said. "Did the president deliver? I'd say personally there, in a way he rarely does." Todd agreed that the remark was "more of a gut moment . . . personal connection moment" from a politician who is usually more cerebral. "I gotta think that moment helps at least calm down Carville and some other critics a little bit," he told Matthews. Critics like, for instance, the fellow he was talking to.

Obama took the emotional connection to a new level Friday in Grand Isle, La., after receiving a Coast Guard briefing on the clean-up. "Our response treats this event for what it is. It's an assault on our shores, on our people, on the regional economy, and on communities like this one," the president said. "People are watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach. Parents are worried about the implications for their children's health. Every resident of this community has watched this nightmare threaten the dreams that they've worked so hard to build, and they want it made right, and they want to make it right now."

He repeated that he is responsible for solving the crisis and said the people of the Gulf will not be facing the future alone. "I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage, and to keep this region on its feet," he said. "Justice will be done for those whose lives have been upended by this disaster, for the families of those whose lives have been lost -- that is a solemn pledge that I am making."
Filed Under: Oil Spill

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27 Comments

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punnster

If the Democrats had done their job of oversight of drilling they could have prevent the oil spill in the first place.Guess the gal who was responsible realized her culpability so she resigned.

May 31 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
actionhero

I can think of better ways of handling the gulf oil spill disaster. For example, as soon as the disaster was recognized as a "Disaster", most presidents would have come out with something presidential, like "Were all in this together" I'm paraphrazing but you have to admit, obamas been more interested in bashing and pointing fingers at BP, while he reminds everyone that he's the president, and he's in charge. He's been more interested in fixing blame and threatening cost issues with the only people who can fix it. I dare say he's been more interested in "Not letting a crisis go to waste". Too bad Katrina is such an accepted failure. I mean, didn't the government do anything right? or is this the unintended consequence of a campaign sound bite?

May 29 2010 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
nokabosh

The oil spill is worse for Obama that Katrina was for Bush. Katrina was more of a failure at the local level -- the mayor and gov. Obama did nothing to protect the coast despite requests from the LA gov for permission to employ berns to keep the oil from coming ashore. The Feds stupidly cited environmental concerns. The US Navy wasn't brought in to help with the spill with ships they have for that purpose. Coastal industries will be devastated for months, years. This was total incompetence at the Fed level. People sense that Obama doesn't seem to care.

May 29 2010 at 3:04 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

I feel like it is his Katrina. He was late arriving on the scene.Was hiking,
golfing, claims he had other people on it.Same thing George W. Bush
was pillaried for doing.

May 29 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
carlton

One commentor, ETTU, makes an excellent point in that during Katrina, the federal government did not have jurisdiction until the affected States requested Federal Assistance.
Conversely, The Gulf of Mexico falls under Federal Jurisdiction, as do all waterways and US Coastlines, making this problem Obama's from start to finish.

May 29 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
carlton

The BP Oil Spill is most definitely, "Obama's Katrina". The only action that Obama has taken is to, yet again, point the finger of blame. Oh, he claimed to be taking action, but the only action he took was to demand that BP clean up their mess.
Five weeks later.......

Yes, the BP Oil Spill is Obama's Katrina, but I expect that he'll find some way to blame George Bush before all is said and done. That seems to be the only tactic that has ever worked for him.

May 29 2010 at 11:28 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
pepingatieza2

Notice how the liberal left media reports their bad news : Obama is low on approval, but BP is lower....
There are Americans dying in Afghanistan and Iraq under the Obama administration, but more died with Bush.....
The unemployment continues high, the indexes are low, sales were sluggish etc therefore, the economy is NOT RECOVERING AS FAST (!?).
The oil continues to spew, the oil is reaching shorelines, not enough booms and coastline protection has been implemented. However, Obama is at the beach looking at the sand and promising...

May 28 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
peapers

I didn't vote for Barack Obama and I can't stand having him as our president, but what does this ACCIDENT have to do with this man? What is it exactly that people think Obama is going to do? This was the same stupid logic being applied during the Katrina disaster.

May 28 2010 at 6:43 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to peapers's comment
RayHenry4

Your poll is proaby right if you polled the nation. Why not take a poll in Tx.La, Ms, Ala, and Fa. I don't think you will get that high approvel

May 28 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
Spro Joe

Somehow I think the Obama Administration will find a way of blaming Bush for the oil spill. They continue to blame Bush for everything else. Katrina was a natural disaster. The oil spill was man and happened during Obama's watch. It should be viewed as MUCH MORE than Bush's Katrina. La. Gov Bobby Jindal and Kevin Costner both had offered solutions that may work. Obama's adminstration has stopped both from trying things. Why not try anything and everything?
I also feel that they (liberals) are in the process of making some political gains from this tradgedy.
And who in their right mind believes his "First thing in the morning and last thing at night." remark? He said that same thing about Jobs, the wars and then the Economy amoung other things. He expresses that same "Eugolgy" about every crisis that comes up.

May 28 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Spro Joe's comment

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