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A Disaster for the Gulf Coast, A Disaster for Obama

4 years ago
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The oil spill is an environmental catastrophe for the Gulf Coast and a political disaster for Barack Obama. It is doing significant, and possibly irreparable, damage to his presidency. That may not be fully clear now, since Obama's approval ratings have certainly not collapsed during the span of this crisis.
The deeper concern for the president, I think, is that what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now will accrete and soon metastasize, creating negative impressions that will be durable and difficult to undo. The oil spill calamity may become a metaphor for the Obama presidency.
For one thing, the oil spill has taken what were once considered the president's strongest characteristics – his cool demeanor and unflappability, his steady temperament and analytical mind – and turned them into perceived weaknesses.
Many commentators, including those who have been quite supportive of Obama, are now criticizing him for being "bloodless," distant, and uncaring. They want him to show more emotion, more anger, even rage. They want passion, fervor, and heat. As a result, Obama has taken on an affect, declaring to NBC's Matt Lauer that he is in search of an "ass" to kick (but only after being told by experts which ass to kick). This has opened Obama up to mockery even from sympathetic liberals like Jon Stewart. When a president looks artificial and begins casting about for a new persona -- when he begins to take stage direction from Spike Lee -- he's in trouble. To thine own self be true.
The oil spill has also made the president look powerless. Earlier this week Obama used an Oval Office address -- delivered 56 days into the crisis -- not to announce any solutions or bold new actions; rather, he provided the country with an update, announced a new commission and announced a new bureaucratic appointment.
To have so little to offer during a nationally televised address to the nation would be foolish under any circumstances; it is doubly so when the president invokes the metaphor of war, as Obama did during his speech on Tuesday night. If you talk about "battle plans" and commit to "fight this spill with everything we've got," you need to do better than announce that Ray Mabus has been tasked with designing a Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible.
Adding to Obama's problems is that as a candidate for president, he spoke about the powers of the presidency as if they were almost limitless. He promised not only to create millions of new jobs, restore prosperity and promote peace, he was also going to restore America's image in the world, end cynicism in our politics, banish the lobbyists from the temple, heal the planet and stop the rise of the oceans. (Turning water into wine and feeding the 5,000 would have to wait for a second term.) For a politician who promised all of this and more, impotence can be politically crippling.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster has also brought to the surface concerns about Obama's inexperience, which was one of the main concerns voters had about him during the election (In March 2008, after Obama effectively secured the Democratic nomination, an ABC/Washington Post poll reported that 46 percent of Americans found him too "inexperienced" to be an effective president, the highest number ever for a major party presidential nominee.) This crisis has shown Obama to be a person lacking in basic managerial skills and executive leadership. Anytime a public figure acts in a way that reinforces the public's pre-existing concerns, it is damaging and dangerous.
Finally, the oil spill has highlighted how clumsy and ineffective the federal government can be. Steps that should have been taken were not, leaving local officials furious at the bureaucratic delays and roadblocks.
It doesn't help that Obama, as both a candidate and as president, created the impression that the federal government has almost talisman-like powers. Under his watch, we were led to believe, the federal government would be lean, efficient, and competent. Obama has expanded its size, scope, and reach beyond anything we have seen since the Great Society. Yet, when the federal government has been called upon to act in a perfectly appropriate way in the oil spill catastrophe, it has failed by almost every measure.
This poses an acute problem for Obama, who represents the federal government during one of its worst hours. Prior to the crisis, the public's faith in government was at an all-time low; it will drop further still. That is not a good thing for this president.
It's too early to tell whether the Deepwater Horizon explosion and all that has followed in its wake will prove to be an inflection point for the Obama presidency. On the other hand, it's not too early to wonder whether, like Jimmy Carter, we have elected a president who is overmatched by events at home and abroad, who radiates weakness instead of strength, and who makes things worse rather than better for our country.

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395 Comments

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meanstr

BP lied from the begining,they knew how much Oil they were getting daily and what was coming out when the break in the pipe started,they lied about using mud before cement they knew the stones in the cement would block the vents and posibilly stop the leak they did not want to lose the well.And there is something very Rotten when the People who are cleaning up the beachs can not say who they work for.This for any one is diffinitly a very Big Red Flag that something is very Rotten.Now their main Aim is relief wells so they can continue to get the Oil the Gulf of Mexico means nothing to them it does not put Money in the Bank for them it is just a problem that they have to use so much piping to get the Oil. .

June 21 2010 at 10:02 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
andrc657

Obama is doing the best he can in a very difficult situation. This is not easy with all those republicans shilling for BIG OIL.

June 20 2010 at 8:46 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
jomac67

The present Leader of the country will get us out of Iraq. He will also "Get us out of THIS Mess ! He did not create these events. Some were Handed to him-Iraq,,some were the results of Past Events-Relaxed oil drilling Regulations,ect. He has already saved us from a ''complete depression ", and is working on improving things further. It seems weird to me, That at a time during a disaster, When the Country should be Banding together to support and Help---So many are willing to BLAME, CRITIZE and make the siduation more difficult than it already is. That is so stupid. If You could prevent President Obama from solving This Problem---You would be the ones who lose-BIG_TIME! This is the First Time a well has ever exploded under a mile of water. It's not going to be Easy to Fix. Better, step aside and let them do their job.

June 20 2010 at 8:15 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
sfamilyent

I find it extremely interesting that we want to blame the federal government and the present administration for whatever problems we might be currently facing, while simultaneously pressing for less government. It is absurd to think that the government and the administration created the gulf oil disaster or that they should have been prepared to take swift action to stop the leak and clean up the spill. If you handcuff the government by ensuring that it does not have funds, personnel and equipment on hand to address disasters, then what do you expect? I am not aware that we had any government off shore oil disaster relief fund or containment agency.

I also find the comparison of Obama to Carter to be interesting, in that they have both been portrayed as being weak and ineffective because of the lack of cooperation in Washington, and because of the disasters that occurred on their watch. People forget the recession during Regan's first term where unemployment peaked at 10.8% in December of 1982 and the savings & loan crisis resulting from the 1986 deregulation of that industry - that cost the taxpayers $124.6 billion... and yet Regan is considered strong and effective.

I don't see the oil spill as showing that Obama to be lacking in managerial skills or executive leadership, as much as I see it as the government and oil industry being unprepared to address a failure of an off shore rig. We didn't learn anything about being prepared from previous spills... and we're going to hold the current president and administration responsible? That is absurd...

June 20 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to sfamilyent's comment
Thomas

I bet you blamed bush for Katrina, didn't you.

June 20 2010 at 6:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jomac67

I agree with you for the most. Except Not all the people considered Regan to be strong or effective. Not even Half the people considered GW Bush to be eigther. The Fact that Mr. Obama is our President is Proof of that. I'm guessing that it is the Voice of the minority doing most if not all of the complaining.

June 20 2010 at 8:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
tenderlies1

The American People, How hard is it to take over The American People. We set back in what is now confortable homes with our big UV's and luxury cars and all is well with the world. We no longer look at whats happening within goverment, we don't see or refuse to see what is happening to our econmy and we believe that all these huge companies can save us when they can't even run their own affairs with out cheating. We turn on our TV's and listen to comedy make fun of and humiiate the highest office in this Country and in the name of Comedy thats OK. We have no respect for our country and unless something directly touches our little part of the world we could care less whats happening. Our New's programs report and smear which ever party their afiliates say for them to and impartial or unbiased reporting is all but history. For many years in some ways the 2 party system worked. Sad to say but we can't find enough free thinking Senators or Congressmen to elect that has the ability to put their selfishness aside and work for the good of all the people not just one chosen party.

I listen to people blame and call The President names over this spill and this did not happen because of anything he did but you hold him accountable to clean it up and quickly, as quickly as Katrina was maybe. There is enough here to blame and certainly it does not lay on one mans shoulder. The people responsible for building this maybe, the people who turned a blind eye and passed it. Long ago there was a saying, Money Talks and BS walks looks to me like we have a whole lot of both here.

June 19 2010 at 8:32 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
kenmcc2

President Obama sees himself as a visionary, a man charged by destiny with moving the country in a bold new direction. He forgets he is also an executive, and he seems to have minimal interesst in and capability for here and now problem solving.

Any CEO could see, the oil spill requires two responses: Cap the well. Clean up the mess.

BP alone can cap the well and is trying to do that, vilification notwithstanding. But the cleanup should have mobilized all availabale resources from Day 1, including the use of the latest skimmer ships on a massive scale. Many of these ships are foreign registered and crewed and incredibly, prevented from working in our coastal woters by a US law enacted in the 20's (under the influence of organized labor), The Jones Act.

That law could and should have been waived temporarily and all such available ships brought to the Gulf. The oil now washing up on our shores could have been substantially reduced by such a concerted effort.

Sadly, our President, focused as he is on changing the world by the sheer force of his personality, totally lacks in the leadership required to execute a coherent response to this problem. In that absence of leadership, inaction is inevitable, and that's exactly what we are facing now.

June 19 2010 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
rtas1040

obama has been totally out to lunch on the gulf oil spill. The Louisiana Governor requested Army Corps of Engineers permission to build sand berms off the LA coast to trap oil before it reached the bayous. Two months ago. LA decided last week that they had waited long enough and now they're doing it themselves. A FL town is doing the same, acting now, because the obama regime has been toooo slow to respond. Where are the tankers that other nations use to clean up spills...Unfortunately US law prohibits them in the Gulf of Mexico, but obama can suspend that law. But he won't. He wants as much disaster as possible so that Cap and Tax can pass, and all drilling in the Gulf ceases, with oil prices climbing to over 5 dollars a barrel. This is the change that he promised us America!

June 19 2010 at 11:06 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
advhqs6

Blaming O'Bama for the oil disaster is like blaming a Governor for a hurricane that is raging in his/her state. There is nothing that can be done about an ohgoing hurricane. Exactly what is the President supposed to do to stop it while this thing is ongoing? The oil disaster is present tense. It isn't over. It is ongoing. The President has mobilized the Coast Guard to the extent possible to clean up and mitigate the oil from contaminating the shoreline. When BP finally drills another well and is able to stop the flow of oil from this well then it will be time to review what the President has done or not. O'Bama didn't cause the explosion and, like all of us writing comments, is absolutely powerless to stop the well from leaking. If it were on the surface of the ground it would have been stopped by now. It is 5000 feet down and it is not over yet! With Hurricane Katrina it was OVER in a day and it took three more days for Bush to respond and still he did nothing. He left office years after Katrina without ever having done anything. Everyone is looking for some scapegoat to blame. If we are in a traffic accident we look to the driver who ran into our vehicle. In this case the cause of this accident is BP and they have admitted it?

June 19 2010 at 10:15 AM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
Doreen

Katrina was a states issue, this spill is a federal issue....

June 19 2010 at 9:36 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
wmanonfire51

Ronald Reagan said it best when he said,"Gov't isn't the answer,gov't is the problem". And Obama admin proves Reagan right.

June 18 2010 at 11:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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