There were some odds things in Saturday's New York Times. Not only was President Obama criticized over his administration's failure to react faster to the massive oil spill in the Gulf caused by a BP America drilling rig, the paper even compared his dilatory response to...that of George Bush and Hurricane Katrina.
Saturday's lead, "Government Criticizes BP For Response to Oil Spill - But U.S. Officials Skipped Chances to Act - Agency Fears Much Bigger Flow." By Campbell Robertson and Eric Lipton in New Orleans, including this paragraph:
BP officials said they did everything possible, and a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP, which was leasing the drilling rig that exploded in flames on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead.
Reporter Helene Cooper's "White House Memo" Saturday was more explicit: "Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill."
There's a world of difference between the impact of an oil spill and a deadly hurricane. And the White House hopes it stays that way.
As President Obama, who will visit the Gulf region on Sunday morning, has stepped up his administration's response to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, ordering a moratorium on new offshore drilling leases and dispatching cabinet secretaries and cargo planes to the region, the White House is also trying to avert the kind of political damage inflicted on former President George W. Bush by his administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
Cooper took a line the media rarely does with Democratic leaders, accusing Obama of hobnobbing with the elite while ordinary Americans suffered:
Before it was announced that he would visit the Gulf Coast, Mr. Obama's weekend plans had already raised the eyebrows of some administration critics. He is scheduled to attend the high-wattage, celebrity-studded White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night, which CNN has been promising, in hourly promos, that it will broadcast live starting at 7 p.m. with dispatches from the red carpet.
For Mr. Obama, the potential political fallout "is going to be aggravated by the fact that the president traditionally gives a humorous speech," said Martha Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University. "There you are in Washington with celebrities and the media while wildlife and fishermen are doused in oil? That's not going to do much for the White House or for the press, for that matter."
A Saturday editorial, "Unanswered Questions on the Oil Spill," made the same Bush-Obama comparison:
There are many avenues to pursue. Here are two: the oil company's response, and Mr. Obama's. The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative.
A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country's richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush's hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.
Now we have another disaster in more or less the same neck of the woods, and it takes the administration more than a week to really get moving.