Opinion: Obama visits Gulf oil spill; Fly over or soil his shoes?


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President Obama heads to the Gulf of Mexico this morning to be seen catching up first-hand with efforts to fight the massive oil slick that has begun licking the Louisiana shoreline.

The decision to go to the scene is hardly a surprise, though the White House had indicated just 24 hours earlier that there were no immediate plans for the president to visit the scene.


Why the quick change? Here’s where it gets sticky.

Would-be Democratic president Obama was forceful in criticizing the Bush administration for its slow response to the devastation caused by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, which also became a searing political disaster for the Republican administration.

Local officials along the Gulf Coast have already been complaining about the federal response this time, as Gulf Coast officials usually do.

The presidential visit is just the latest move by the administration to escalate its presence, though a president’s presence anywhere is a distraction for everyone else nearby.

That was the reason George W. Bush cited for flying over devastated New Orleans instead, but that made him appear far too royally disconnected to too many.

Obama personally has spoken about the oil leak three times in as many days.

Aides are always citing ongoing briefings. Top Cabinet officials visited the region on Friday after a major briefing on Thursday in Washington. Officials in Louisiana have often noted that the response by the federal government and BP began as soon as the fire began on a deep water rig on April 20 and has been “forward leaning.”


Lastly and most important in terms of longevity in voters’ minds, there is always the public relations problem.

Sunday morning’s talk shows (see The Ticket’s regular list of scheduled guests here, obviously focusing on the spill) will also likely mention the Obamas’ scheduled appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, emceed by NBC late-night host Jay Leno, telling side-splitting inside jokes on Washington’s wine-sipping political/media establishment.

Can you say, laughing while the gulf burns?

The image of a president at a glamorous black-tie affair on a night when black oil gushes into the gulf and washes ashore down there is a bit too ancien regime for a populist president who has berated Washington’s cynical politics-as-usual. But there he was.

And then there’s the large problem of the big airplane. Remember last May when an Obama-less Air Force One flew low over Manhattan for a quarter-million-dollar photo op? While scaring the politics out of 9/11 survivors there? Look for a smaller plane and entourage Sunday.

On the other hand, unlike Bush, Obama has shown no concern over the sight of the commander-in-chief playing golf with civilian buddies on a military course frequently, while U.S. troops fight two wars halfway around the world.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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