Obama on the Gulf Coast

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Standing in the sun surrounded by state and local officials, President Obama sought to send a message of resolve to Gulf Coast residents and the American public.

“You will not be abandoned. You will not be left behind,” he said, clearly trying to draw a distinction between the BP oil spill and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Reiterating what has already been done in response to the spill, the President was clearly on defense politically. He said 1,4000 national guardsman had already been deployed to the region and said manpower will be tripled in places where oil has already come ashore. He said, “There’s nobody here that can’t get in touch with me directly,” attempting to stave off accusations that the White House is out of touch or that bureaucratic red tape is hampering response efforts. The leak itself has not been definitively stopped, he said, adding that he understands “feelings of frustrations and anger” will continue until the oil stops flowing into the ocean.

In a nod to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s idea to protect Gulf shores with an artificial sand-made barrier island, Obama said every idea put forward was being considered on its merits. (A modified version of the idea is being tried, but there are concerns about its effectiveness and environmental impact.) The Gulf press conference started more than 90 minutes late, perhaps an indication that a meeting with local and state officials beforehand had gone on much longer than expected.

“Not every judgment we make is gonna be right the first time out,” the President said. “Sometimes there are going to be disagreements…There are gonna be a lot of judgment calls involved here….We’re considering every single idea out there.”

Obama also, to some degree, staked his reputation on the weeks and months ahead. Saying, “I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I’m the president and the buck stops with me,” he said it was his “solemn pledge” to make sure the residents and businesses of the affected region will be compensated for damages fairly and helped in the cleanup effort.

It’s tempting to judge situations like this on the daily ups and downs of politics, but real impact of the oil spill on Obama will only become clear in the weeks and months to come. If the spill is capped quickly, BP is made to pay the entire tab for cleanup and damages and new better regulations are put into place to prevent such a catastrophe in the future, the political damage could be minimized. But if the well continues to gush unabated, local and state officials lodge legitimate complaints about federal roadblocks or, even worse, there’s a whiff of federal abandonment before the region’s inhabitants are made whole again, Obama could suffer mightily.