You could almost hear the hoots and howls of relief and glee coming from the West Wing as Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) accused the administration of a "shakedown," for asking BP to provide recompense for those affected by the ongoing disaster under the sea.
But just as Republicans shouldn't expect President Obama's tanking poll numbers to replace the need to present voters with a new agenda of their own, Obama shouldn't decide that the distraction provided by embarassing comments of BP officials and Congressman Barton is enough to deflect from his failure to take command and control of the oil spill response early enough in the now two-month-long leak.
As I wrote in my column, Obama wasted the month of May allowing everyone — particularly James Carville — to talk from the Gulf and control the narrative. By the time he gave a solid speech in the Oval Office on Tuesday night, very few people were listening and it was panned. Critics, Republicans like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, residents, fishermen, everyone was on television talking in detail about the spill for a month, as Obama failed to take the reins on time. The stories from Washington and the White House in the weeks following the spill were about Elena Kagan, the debate over Arizona's new immigration law, the embarrassing job offer Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) turned down, the let's-keep-Karzai-happy Washington reception for the Afghan president and on and on. One story, the arrest of the Times Square Bomber, should have been as high a priority for the president as the spill.
Because he can't take back those six weeks, Obama will be playing catch-up until the well is capped. But in the meantime, when he can't be down in the Gulf, owning this crisis, he should send the first lady, and Vice President Biden, to rotate in and out of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama until further notice. The message that will send will be far more potent than an Oval Office address.
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