On Obama, clearly it’s better for him that the oil stop leaking than that it continue leaking, as it is for everyone else. But I think the damage has been done, and in fact the likelihood of additional political damage to the president from the slow spill response was pretty minimal. The second month of this mess was when the public began concluding Obama wasn’t moving with much urgency or improving the situation; in the third month, disapproval of how Obama handles this issue increased by only four points. That’s about 1 percentage point for every eight days. For Obama’s approval rating, I suspect the issue of the spill is now baked in the cake.
If the cap holds, it’s not likely that voters will see Obama’s response as any quicker or more effective; most will continue to wonder why the federal government creaked and groaned and took so long to respond to Louisiana’s plans and requests and why skimmers sat in port for Coast Guard inspections. Obama ripped his predecessor’s response to Katrina and repeatedly promised a more effective, more efficient, more confident and active federal government. In the spill response, many Americans saw the same old, same old. Of course, the fact that the president seems to be on the golf course more frequently than Tiger doesn’t help.
I think the political damage to Barack Obama from the Gulf oil spill goes far beyond the voters' reaction to his Administration's lackluster, even lackadaisical, response.
Until the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama was managing to make the "I inherited it from Bush" ploy work. Around half of the electorate bought the idea that whatever the problem, since Obama inherited it from Bush, they needed to cut him more slack in solving it -- maybe it was bigger than he thought, maybe Bush had set him up somehow to make a solution more difficult.
But the Deepwater Horizon happened on Obama's watch, and as such, he owned it. His effort to blame it on the Bush-era holdovers at the Minerals Management Service fell flat. The electorate watched to see how he would handle this disaster, the first one of his Presidency that they felt was in no way Bush's fault, and he failed. One might say he failed spectacularly; though he didn't order a specific effort that crashed and burned, like Kennedy's Bay of Pigs or Carter's Desert One, he did something even worse: he demonstrated total impotence, combined with incompetence and inattentiveness.
That gave voters a reason to reflect back and reevaluate the "Bush did it" excuses of the prior year and a half. No longer could they take it as given that a competent, powerful Obama was overmatched by problems created and amplified by an ineffectual or even diabolical Bush. They were faced squarely with the possibility that Obama had been unequal to the challenge of being President from the start.
And now we see that even those polls with the strongest Democrat sampling bias are showing Obama's disapproval above his approval -- in some instances, above 50 percent -- with large numbers of those polled expressing little or no confidence in his leadership on the economy, the most important issue on which Obama drew a contrast with the "policies that got us into this mess." This isn't just dissatisfaction with a three-month-long oil spill, it's a fundamental reevaluation of his entire Presidency.