Saturday, May 29, 2010

Is the oil spill President Obama's Katrina moment?

The circumstances are eerily similar -- a disaster, Louisiana and a perceived (or real) ineffective government response.

For President Bush, a horrible response to Hurricane Katrina cemented in the minds of too many Americans that the president and his administration cared too much about fighting a war overseas and not enough about taking care of people in desperate need at home.

For President Obama, a so far confused response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is allowing too many Americans to draw comparisons that might not be fair. But they are being made.

There is at least one critical difference to consider -- the Katrina disaster was a human crisis; the oil spill is an ecological crisis. Now, bear with me here because I'm not about to argue that the ecology and the environment are unimportant.

Katrina caused thousands of people to lose their homes, their jobs, their connection to place and sadly in some cases their loved ones. The literal cries for help were visible in our living rooms every night. As Americans continued to look for the government to get involved with a massive, coordinated relief effort, we instead saw a president giving platitudes to people who didn't deserve them. The cause of the problem (the hurricane) was easy to see and the effects (lives and property lost, poor government response) were immediate.

The oil spill is proving far more complex. The Obama administration -- demonstrating yet again a trait that impresses admirers and baffles critics -- first played it cool: Let's give it some time and let's definitely not overreact is a defining theme of this administration.

Let's accept that the administration has played an integral role in attempting to fix the terribly complex problem taking place a mile down in the Gulf. But let's also accept that the cause (the explosion) is easy to see but the effects are less quickly definable and perhaps not as immediate.

Americans accept that the fragile eco-life in the Gulf will be affected, but we can't see it as readily as we can a mother crying. They accept that the coastline will be damaged, but they can't see it as quickly as they do a man crying because he has no place to live.

I'm not convinced the comparisons between the Bush response to Katrina and the Obama response to the oil spill can be equated with each other. But I can accept that the White House ripping BP on a regular basis is not going to work. I appreciate that it took responsibility for the on-going problem, but it is hard to understand why it has taken more than a month to get to this point.

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