News / USA

Gulf Oil Spill Tests Obama's Political Skills

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, 16 Jun 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, 16 Jun 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
TEXT SIZE - +

President Barack Obama vowed to keep pressure on energy giant BP to clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, following a White House meeting on Wednesday with BP executives.  The meeting came the day after Mr. Obama delivered a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office on the crisis, the first of his presidency.

After meeting with BP executives, President Obama said he would make sure the company meets its obligations to clean up the spill and compensate those affected by it.

"So what this is about is accountability.  At the end of the day, that is what every American wants and expects," said the president.

The meeting came the day after Mr. Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office.  Presidents often speak from the Oval Office during times of war and national crisis.  Mr. Obama sought to reassure the public that his administration is on top of the Gulf oil spill.  It was the first time he used such a platform to speak directly to the American people.

"The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face.  This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again," he said.  "What sees us through, what has always seen us through, is our strength and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us -- if we summon the courage to reach for it," President Obama added.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become a major political and leadership test for President Obama.  Political experts were not surprised that Mr. Obama used the trappings of an Oval Office address to try to restore some of the political footing he lost during the early stages of the crisis, when critics said he was slow to respond.

Bruce Buchanan is an expert on the presidency at the University of Texas.

"Well, I think it is very important if only because we now kind of broadly recognize this as the most important environmental crisis we have ever faced as a nation.  And any problem that is perceived to be manifesting at that level of magnitude needs to have high profile presidential attention and that is what he is trying to do," said Buchanan.

The president's challenge is made all the more difficult by the constant stream of video images of oil continuing to leak from the underwater well, forcing him to contend with a frustrated and angry public, says political analyst Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News.

"And I think there is a growing worry among a lot of Americans [who say], 'Why can't we get this fixed?  We sent men to the moon.  We won a world war.  Why can't we shut this cursed oil spill off?'" DeFrank asked.

Some of Mr. Obama's critics questioned why it took so long for the president to assert himself on a crisis that threatens to undermine public confidence in his ability to solve problems.

Analysts say Mr. Obama has made four trips to the Gulf region for a firsthand look at the problem, mindful of the political price paid by his predecessor, President George W. Bush.  Mr. Bush was severely criticized for his administration's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Political experts also point to another example of how presidents should not handle a crisis -- an Oval Office speech given by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 during a national energy crisis.  Mr. Carter criticized Americans for what he called self-indulgence and consumption, and said the country was experiencing a crisis of confidence.

"The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America," said Mr. Carter.

It became known as Mr. Carter's "malaise speech," even though he never used the word.  Experts say the speech contributed to a public perception that Mr. Carter was not up to the task of inspiring the American people.  He was defeated for re-election by Ronald Reagan the following year.

Political analyst Bruce Buchanan says that a president's ability to instill confidence and a sense of leadership among the public is an important skill vital to effective governing.

"And the prices paid by presidents such as President Bush in association with Hurricane Katrina for seeming to be indifferent at a time when there was great alarm and great human suffering," he said.  "A big part of the president's job is to communicate not only empathy, but also reassurance and solidarity with people who are badly stressed.  And all of us as Americans as well as the citizens of any country want to know that the government and its executive leadership are doing everything that can be done from the minute a problem arises," Buchanan explained.

Public opinion surveys show that a slight majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama's handling of the oil spill.  But some analysts, including Bruce Buchanan, say that so far the crisis is having only a marginal impact on the president's public approval ratings.

"I am actually quite surprised to see that they [i.e., the president's public approval ratings] are hovering around 50 percent, not only given the magnitude of the oil crisis, but also a large variety of problems that have been on his plate for most of his presidency," he said.

Gallup pollster Frank Newport generally agrees with that assessment.  But he is also quick to warn that the public could easily lose patience with the administration's handling of the spill, if things do not improve in the coming weeks.

"So if things continue to go bad in terms of the oil spill through the summer, it may be hard for Obama to get out of the way of the negative reaction on the part of the American public," said Newport.

Perhaps the only comfort for the president in the polls is that the public has a much more negative view of the company responsible for the spill, BP.  The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 83 percent of those surveyed disapprove of BP's performance in dealing with the crisis.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid