Appearing to Care about New Orleans
Early this month, Barack Obama went down to Louisiana to eyeball the possible damage from the blowout of BP's exploded oil rig, keep the cleanup crews on their toes -- no version of "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" from him -- and show the Gulf states and the rest of the nation his concern. On May 3, The Washington Post's website played the story precisely where it belonged -- entombed in the middle of the page. In its placement, it said the president of the United States did not, in this case, matter all that much.That's what Democrats are supposed to be good at, showing they care. But how is it Cohen thinks Obama did such a better job of this than Bush? All you have to do is look at the dates. Katrina hit on New Orleans Monday Aug. 29, 2005. Bush flew over the ravaged city that Wednesday and was in the city by Friday. The BP oil rig blew up, killing 11 workers, on April 20. Obama didn't make it down to New Orleans until May 2. So President Bush made it to the scene of the "calamity" in four days while it took Obama 12 days. That's four times longer for President Obama to find the time to survey the greatest environmental disaster in American history.
Everyone knew that Obama was merely showing that he was not George W. Bush. He was not going to ignore a calamity, especially one affecting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. On the other hand, we all knew that he could not reverse the winds or cork the spill. In fact, he could do precious little except show that he cared.
Obama certainly showed he was not George Bush. He's worse. Much worse. By Cohen's own standard, worse by a factor of four.
Heck of a job, Richie.
Meanwhile, political magpies like James Carville are screeching for Obama to do more, or at least appear to care more, for the suffering people of Louisiana. "We're about to die down here," screeches Carville. At least on this, Cohen is right. There isn't much Obama can do.
UPDATE: Rove weighs in.
Could this be Mr. Obama's Katrina? It could be even worse. The federal response to Katrina was governed by the 1988 Stafford Act, which says that in natural disasters on-shore states are in charge, not Washington. The federal obligation is to "support . . . State and local assistance efforts" by providing whatever resources a governor requests and then writing big checks for the cleanup. Mr. Bush had to deal with a Louisiana governor and a New Orleans mayor who were, by federal law, in charge.
But BP's well was drilled in federal waters. Washington, not Louisiana, is in charge. This is Mr. Obama's responsibility. He says his administration has been prepared for the worst from the start. Mr. Obama's failure to lead in cleaning up the spill could lead voters to echo his complaint in Katrina's aftermath: "I wish that the federal government had been up to the task."