The analogies have been flowing almost as fast as the oil from the Gulf seabed. The BP spill is Barack Obama’s Katrina. Or maybe it is his 9-11. Pick your disaster of choice. But however you want to classify it, the expanding oil slick is a mess for the White House:
1) Voters are impatient. By a 53-to-43 margin, according to pollster Gallup, Americans think the president has mishandled the crisis. CBS News found a similar gap. The spill strikes particularly at one of the president’s supposed strengths — competence — and highlights a perceived weakness — that he is more an intellectual than a executive. Even Democrats don’t think he has been hands-on enough. (See James Carville’s near-hysterical rant on ABC.) And now Obama is reversing a well-thought out move to allow more drilling.
2) The president’s long-declining approval ratings had been perking up, thanks to the recovering economy and his push for financial reform. Now they’re sinking again. Since World War Two, presidents with sub-50 percent approval ratings — Obama is at 47 percent — have seen their party lose an average of 36 House seats in midterm elections. The GOP needs 39 to take control of the lower chamber.
3) The spill has also undercut Democratic efforts to pass an energy bill that would subsidize alternative fuels and create a limited carbon emissions trading system. Obama has suspended deepwater drilling. But Republicans won’t even consider passing a bill that doesn’t expand such efforts. That demand makes the legislation a non-starter for Democrats. Now energy companies have begun quietly talking to GOPers about what sort of energy policy they would push if they take one or both chambers of Congress.
4) And if BP can’t permanently stop the leak? Then the problem isn’t Obama’s Katrina, it is his Iranian hostage crisis — a long-term problem he has no control over that continually drains his political capital and popularity. The White House better hope the First Father can soon tell daughter Malia that “Yes, Daddy has plugged that hole.”