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Political Physics – Is President Obama Channeling Bush in the Gulf?


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a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

A May 27th article in USA Today reads, “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?”

In the same article entitled, “Is BP’s oil spill becoming this president’s Katrina?” the author noted that “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.”

They are not the first to post the question.  For weeks now, both the broadcast news and print media have been a flutter, questioning whether the recent oil spill has rendered President Obama as ineffective today as President Bush was then.  A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that “six out of 10 adults say the federal government is doing a ‘poor’ or very poor’ job handling the spill.  [And] a majority — 53% — say the same about Obama.”

Indeed 11 men died on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when the explosion ruptured the well on April 20th.  And some scientists are estimating that the oil spill in the Gulf has already surpassed the 11 million gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S, History.  Moreover, the adverse ecological impacts will be felt for decades and it will take just as long for the economy (e.g., fishing, shrimp and tourism industries) to rebound.

Now, is that comparable to the nearly 2,000 people that lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods?  Or is it comparable to the $81 billion in damage across the Gulf?  No disrespect to the families of the crewmembers lost in the Deepwater Horizon and my apologies to all my pro-PETA friends, but I do not think so.

Let’s dial back the rhetoric and talk reality.

Did the White House handle the oil spill effectively and efficiently?  No.

The White House’s insisting that “a 1990 law that requires oil companies to clean up their messes but saying that the government was offering help and overseeing the effort,” was incredibly shortsighted if not plain stupid.  I would have liked to have seen President Obama charge our Department of Environmental Protection with taking more of a project management role in the clean up.  We should have been on top of BP, making sure the job got done – quickly and correctly.

However, the fact is the Obama Administration and even BP haven’t been sitting on their thumbs.  According to CNN thus far:

- 22,000: Personnel working to protect shoreline and wildlife

- 1,200: Skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels being used in cleanup

- 3.1 million: Feet of boom deployed to contain the spill

- 840,000: Gallons of chemical dispersants used

- 11.1 million: Gallons of oily water recovered

And as Frank Rich asserted in his NY Times article, “the Obama administration has been engaged with the oil spill from the start — however haltingly and inarticulately at times. It was way too trusting of BP but was never AWOL. For all the second-guessing, it’s still not clear what else the president might have done to make a definitive, as opposed to cosmetic, difference in plugging the hole: yell louder at BP, send in troops and tankers, or, as James Carville would have it, assume the role of Big Daddy?”

But in the end, I still say if the Obama Administration made any mistake, it was relying on BP to clean up their mess.  I mean let’s learn from history, President Obama; BP played a key role in the botched clean up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Remember?