Right vs Left on Obama's Gulf response

The Hill invited me to participate in a new effort to have bloggers from opposing perspectives engage on the hot issues of the day.  In today’s installment of the blogger face-off, the newspaper asked me to evaluate Barack Obama’s response to the Gulf crisis.  To provide the counterpoint, Dave Roberts from Grist defends Obama, and we’ll start off with an excerpt of his argument:

As for Obama’s response to the oil gusher, it’s been creditable on balance. It took a while, and there were some boneheaded missteps — not getting down there fast enough, and letting BP run the oil containment effort early on, going along with BP’s transparent bid to lowball the amount of oil involved (official estimates have drifted perpetually up in a way that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence).

Since those early stumbles, though, Obama has regained his footing and done what has to be done. The world’s most advanced experts and technologies were deployed to stop the gusher. (It’s just that nobody knows how.) $20 billion was secured from BP as compensation for victims. A massive Gulf restoration program is being ramped up. And further offshore permits have been put on hold until their safety can be insured, though an oil-connected judge is putting that decision at risk.

It’s true that the public doesn’t approve of Obama’s response, but that’s because there’s oil spewing and a disaster unfolding. No amount of emoting can substitute for stopping the damn oil, and there’s just not a lot Obama can do on that score. The relief wells won’t be done until August and there’s no secret government laser drill that can make it go any faster. Part of being president is you take the hit for national crises whether or not they’re under your control.

They don’t approve of his response because the oil is still spewing, of course, but also because the “early stumbles” have been followed by late stumbles as well:

Almost two weeks ago, Obama gave his very first Oval Office speech in an attempt to cast himself as in command of the crisis. Yet even on Day 57 of the spill, Obama gave no details on how the federal government would end the crisis; instead, Obama said that a commission would study it and a (part-time) czar would be put in charge of it, after nearly two months of supposedly being on top of the issue, as he claimed in his speech.

Looking disengaged and disinterested would be less of a problem if that was just a misperception. Sadly, as Gulf Coast states have discovered, it’s also reality. Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) told me in an exclusive interview that the state of Florida had to hire its own skimmers because the federal government keeps dragging its feet on getting them to the Gulf. The White House team refused to respond to an offer from the Dutch for the use of one of the world’s largest skimmers, with 20 times the capacity of the American ship that wound up doing the job.

LeMieux says that the US has thousands of skimmers available, but that the federal government hasn’t moved more than a small fraction to the Gulf in case a disaster hits elsewhere. We’re experiencing an Exxon Valdez every two and a half days. A leader would command assets to the actual crisis at hand. …

The pushback on these criticisms has been, “Well, what do you expect President Obama to do – plug the hole with his own bare hands?” Of course not. But we do expect Obama to take part in the crisis and do his job well, or at all. One incident this past week is instructive. Obama called a panel of experts to look at the safety of offshore drilling and to make recommendations for improvements. The White House then declared a blanket moratorium imposed by Obama on offshore drilling, saying it was based on the recommendations of his panel. Unfortunately, the panel erupted in outrage, claiming that they had never seen the moratorium Obama imposed and almost unanimously opposed it,leading a judge to overturn it this week as having no rational basis.

Be sure to read both essays.

Let’s offer a weekend poll on Obama’s response to the oil spill.  How would you rate it?