Saturday, June 05, 2010

He's not Slick Barack...and he's not Incompetent Barack...

...but the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to stick to President Obama and the perception of his ability to lead. The slick label stuck to Bill Clinton, and the incompetent label stuck to Jimmy Carter. In both cases, those labels undermined their presidencies.

Will the inability to lead stick to President Obama? What happens in the Gulf could provide an answer.

Politico.com's Mike Allen has this excerpt from an editorial by E. J. Dionne that will appear in Monday's Washington Post:

'The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has created a double bind for the Obama administration. How it deals with a challenge even more complicated than it looks will determine the kind of summer the president has and the kind of election the Democrats will face this fall. ... 'Nobody can look at the response and say we were slow in doing what we were doing,' senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview. He pointed to a 'whole range of steps' Obama 'took right from the beginning.' But he added: 'We didn't communicate it well.' ... [T]he Obama team's failure to explain what it was doing, to have someone speaking authoritatively about its plans, and to engage the president more visibly early on, all helped feed a media narrative no leader wants to face -- a public argument over whether his predicament more closely resembles Hurricane Katrina or the Iran hostage crisis.

'But this is where the double bind comes in. The temptation now will be to react in a way that encourages a single-minded focus on the gulf disaster. ... Yet the simple truth is that the most important issue facing the nation is not the oil spill, however horrific its effects will be, but the economy. ... [A]ll of the president's talk about red ink undercuts support for the short-term spending measures that even his most deficit-conscious advisers know the economy needs. ... He needs to establish that he is doing all he can to repair the damage in the gulf even as he maintains his focus on the economy and persuades reluctant conservative Democrats that the job of ending the downturn is not yet done. ... He also can't afford to let oily waters engulf his priorities. It's worth remembering that while the daily countdown on the Iran hostage crisis helped create a famous television show, it was an unruly economy that ultimately upended Jimmy Carter's presidency.'

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