"Obama's Katrina"

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 27, 2010

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While it is a relief to know that the top kill process appears to be working in stopping the oil leak–at least, according to reports at the time of the writing of this blog post–the political fallout from the oil spill may be immune to infusions of mud and cement.

Stopping an environmental disaster is certainly more important than is stopping a political disaster. But the nature of the political disaster is clear:

The hurricane that drowned New Orleans and cast George W. Bush as out of touch swept across the Gulf Coast nearly five years ago. Now, as oil laps ashore in the very same region, local officials are asking: Is there another government-Gulf Coast disconnect? Is BP’s oil spill becoming this president’s Katrina?

President Obama will face questions today at his first news conference since oil started gushing five weeks ago.

Frustrated Gulf Coast residents say they understand that only BP can plug the leak. But they want to know why the federal government didn’t act faster to stop the oil from reaching shore, why BP hasn’t been forced to skim more oil from the surface and why their request hasn’t been approved to build new barrier islands to help keep the oil at bay.

The Obama administration’s response is “dysfunctional, there’s no chain of command, no one’s in charge,” says Parish President Billy Nungesser in Plaquemines, La.

The public isn’t impressed either.

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that six out of 10 adults say the federal government is doing a “poor” or “very poor” job handling the spill. A majority — 53% — say the same about Obama.

In related news, Liz Birnbaum, the head of the Minerals and Management Services who had been serving since July, 2009, resigned. Incredibly, she actually received verbal praise from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, despite the fact that she has become the Michael Brown of this disaster.

The President held a news conference on the oil spill (finally, and at long last). The takeaway from the not-unfriendly-to-the-Administration New York Times?

During a full hour of questioning, [the President] illustrated that he has a grasp of the technical challenges at work in the oil spill. He said the government was calling the shots, the buck stopped with him and the ultimate responsibility rested in the Oval Office.

But it remains an open question whether the measured tone that has become the soundtrack of Mr. Obama’s presidency – a detached, calm, observational pitch – served to drive the point home that he is sufficiently enraged by the fury in the Gulf Coast.

At several points during the news conference, Mr. Obama struggled to exhibit a strong command of the matter at hand. Was the director of the Mineral Management System fired? “I don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred,” the president said, sounding far from his old mantra of changing-the-way-Washington-works.

The president almost seemed that he, himself, wasn’t convinced that his administration has shown the American people that he is on top of the matter. Why else would he close with an anecdote from his daughter, Malia, asking whether he has closed the hole? That seemed like an odd way to wrap up an event designed to show that he was fully in charge.

(Emphasis mine.)

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