The Associated Press quotes Adm. Thad Allen, the administration’s point man for the government response to the oil spill, as saying this weekend the oil spill may be with us “well into the fall.”
If so, the political news just continues to get worse for the Democrats.
Dogged by a poor economy, dreadful unemployment numbers, a simmering immigration situation and unpopular legislation, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are in political trouble. The last thing they needed heading into the fall mid-term elections was a disaster such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course no thinking person blames the cause of the disaster on the administration, although there is an argument to be made that lax Minerals Management Services (MMS) oversight might be a contributor. However, the blame rightfully belongs exclusively to British Petroleum. But mobilization in reaction to the disaster as well as the responsibility for federal waters belongs to the administration. As many have said, rightly or wrongly, the criticism George Bush received for Katrina had nothing to do with the hurricane per se, but with the perception of the federal government’s slow reaction to the disaster afterward.
This administration is coming under the very same sort of criticism. And while the president finally seems to be getting the message on the public relations front about demonstrating more concern and urgency, he’s not getting good reviews from most observers for his handling of the government’s end of the disaster. Although he claims administration officials have been on the job since “day one” and fully in charge of the effort to cap the well and clean up the Gulf, few seem to believe the claim.
Now come the images of oil soaked pelicans and other wild life and the political damage continues to mount. Administration supporters ask, “what do you want him to do?” Critics say, “lead.” Thus far, however, little leadership has been evident.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says, “there is a craving for a different kind of crisis leadership from President Obama largely because he’s so capable of it as we saw on the campaign trail in 2008,” he said. “When he lets go and talks from the heart, he’s one of the most effective political figures in modern times.”
But talking isn’t the type of leadership that is being craved by most. Action is the key. And to this point, action by the federal government is perceived to be far less than it should be and certainly less than many want and expect. Critics wonder, for example, why Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s effort to build barrier islands to protect the state’s wetlands remain wrapped in federal red tape after 50 days.
Some of his supporters are now urging the president to “go off,” get emotional and show some rage. Rage won’t contain the spill clear the Gulf. What is needed now is a comprehensive plan to cap, contain and clean up the leak and competent leadership to execute it.
If they don’t see that, the American people may take their “rage” out at the ballot box in November