After concern that the White House was being too deferential to BP in reacting to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, on Thursday President Obama held his first major press conference in nearly a year to discuss his administration's reaction to the spill. The "top kill" strategy for stemming the leak seems to be working for the moment, but the oil already spreading onto the coastline still risks devastating the Gulf's marine and bird populations and fundamentally reshaping the ecosystem. All this is leading political pundits to wonder, what does President Obama's reaction to this crisis reveal about his personality? Here's what they're saying.
- 'Mix of Resolve and Regret' The New York Times' Peter Baker finds a "mix of resolve and regret" as "President Obama uttered three words on Thursday that many of his 43 predecessors twisted themselves into knots trying with varying degrees of success to avoid: 'I was wrong.'" Baker recounts the "fairly unusual presidential self-critique" Obama gave during his press conference. "Amid deep public frustration and criticism from both sides of the political aisle, the president sought to assert leadership in response to a slow-motion disaster emanating from a mile beneath the sea."
- Learning the Limits of Federal Government National Review's Yuval Levin posits, "[The oil spill is] like Katrina in that many people's attitudes regarding the response to it reveal completely unreasonable expectations of government. The fact is, accidents (not to mention storms) happen. ... We should expect a firm response from the institutions we have built to protect ourselves--science, technology, and modern government--but we cannot expect a perfect response. Not from Bush, and not from Obama." Levin says that President Obama, and all of us, should be learning that somewhere there is a limit to the power of federal government.
- He's Not Competent The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan complains, "He was supposed to be competent." She predicts, "The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It's not good to have a president in this position--weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support--less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of 'the indispensble nation' be so weakened."
- Never Takes Responsibility The New York Post's Charles Hurt fumes, "Again and again, Obama disputed charges made by people on the ground that his administration has bollixed things up pretty badly. ... This is not taking 'full responsibility.' It's called claiming to take responsibility, but without any of those pesky consequences. It is the Obama way."
- 'Struggling' to Maintain Typical Resolution and Control The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty declares Obama "defensive" and "struggling to show he's in control." Since the spill began, "This [began as] the familiar Obama: resolute and in charge. But six weeks after the spill began, those words seemed to highlight the difficulty he has had in convincing the country that he is on top of the situation. As oil continues to foul the gulf, the conflicting signals coming from the president and his team have imperiled his reputation for competence and coolness in the face of crisis."
- He's Not Polling Well The Economist reports, "Barack Obama's approval rating of 44% this week is his lowest rating ever in our polls. ... Only 27% say they have a 'great deal' or 'quite a bit' of confidence in the administration's ability to stop and clean up the spill. (They may finally be on their way to stopping it.) In a vaguer measure, just 40% approve of the way the president is handling the environment, matching his lowest rating to date."