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Additional pitfalls loom. Making BP the centerpiece of a campaign shines a light on how little the administration has done to cope with the spill. While Rahm Emanuel was ripping BP Chief Tony Hayward for taking time off to watch his yacht race this past weekend, the RNC scored a more significant hit with a new ad that focuses on Obama’s slow response to the BP crisis, complete with footage of the president playing multiple rounds of golf. Both lines of attack are a little unfair: Would the oil stop flowing if Hayward and Obama forfeited all leisure time? But then Hayward is not running for office, while Obama’s popularity is the backdrop to the midterm elections. And given his declining poll numbers – more than half of registered voters say that Obama does not merit reelection, according to a new Gallup poll – the last thing Democrats should want heading into election season is sustained focus on the president’s handling of the BP spill.
That is in large part because what the administration has done has not helped matters. On Saturday, Obama went into campaign mode, claiming that Republicans were blocking his efforts to address unemployment. But it was Obama who ordered a six-month moratorium on offshore oil drilling and eliminated thousands of jobs in the process. Offshore drilling supplies some one third of domestic oil in the U.S., and the oil and gas industry supports some 200,000 jobs off the Gulf Coast, some 32,000 of which could be lost over the next year as a result of the moratorium. Some of those jobs may never return. Already, oil exploration companies like Anadarko and Cobalt International Energy have decided to leave the Gulf Coast and transfer their operations overseas in response to the ban.
There are also questions about whether the administration has done everything possible to contain the oil spill. Despite the president’s assurance that he would listen to all proposals, the administration has pointedly ignored bipartisan requests that it waive the Jones Act to permit foreign ships to operate in U.S. waters and ports to help with the cleanup. Congressional Democrats like Florida’s Corrine Brown have complained that the Jones Act has prevented their states from contracting foreign vessels to skim their coastal waters for oil. Even if the benefits from foreign ships prove minimal, allowing them to help would seem to be a no-lose proposition.
Such missteps by the administion suggest that the politics of the BP oil spill won’t be as straightforward as Democrats think. Painting Republicans as the party of sinister oil interests is a time-honored Democratic tactic. But considering the BP contributions that Obama has pocketed and the government’s failure to deal with the crisis, there are reasons to think that if BP does become an election issue, it will be to the Democrats’ detriment.
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