Obama pays price for thinking Bush was a dunce 

President Obama went from the triumph of passing his national health plan to the tragedy of the BP oil spill in just two months.

It was only March 28 when Obama pronounced that getting Congress to pass a bill strenuously disliked by the American people was proof that government could "still do big things." By May 28, Americans were watching oil belch up from the briny deep and wondering whether government could do anything at all.

Blame over what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano might call a "man-caused disaster" in the Gulf of Mexico will be traded until long after the last pelican has been wiped down and the final check has been cut to an out-of-work shrimper.

BP will get most of the blame, and there's reason to wonder whether a company that saw its stock described as having "the smell of death" will survive billions of dollars in fines, lawsuits and cleanup fees.

But Obama will be endlessly second-guessed for allowing more offshore drilling before he made sure that his regulators were up to the task and then taking so long to jump in after it was clear they weren't.

Some of the blame will be unfair, and some will be well placed. But a good bit from both categories will adhere to the president, who once was seen as spotless.

But Obama needn't wonder why the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon will have done so much damage to his political fortunes.

By raising expectations for what government can do and for campaigning irresponsibly against the failures of his predecessor, Obama made his own eventual fall all the more precipitous.

When Obama was running for president in 2008 he was still bashing George W. Bush for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, scoffing at Bush's promise to "do whatever it takes" to help New Orleans residents rebuild.

"Those words have been caught in a tangle of half-measures, half-hearted leadership and red tape," Obama said on a campaign swing through New Orleans.

Obama can hardly be surprised to now hear Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal giving him a taste of his own medicine for the administration's slow response to local requests for permission to act against the disaster when the feds weren't offering better ideas of their own.

Obama knew perfectly well that there were problems in New Orleans that predated Katrina that could never be fixed by the federal government, no matter how long the Bush administration carpet-bombed the city with free money. But he was not going to give up any of his rhetorical flourishes because of a fear that he might raise expectations too high in NOLA.

Obama believed his own hype and figured that he could succeed where Bush failed.

Now, two more years down the road, Obama has been unable to solve the problems that he accused Bush of leaving behind through "half-hearted leadership." And now the city faces another disaster, in part because Obama's administration was so bad at regulating the oil industry.

Obama, who railed against the oil industry and wrapped himself in the suffering of the poor people of New Orleans, surely was attuned to the risks at play in deepwater offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

But even he could not fly in like Superman and save the day.

Of all the fictions that Democrats embraced during the Bush presidency, perhaps the most dangerous was that Bush was an idiot.

John Kerry's bitter joke to a college class about poor students getting "stuck in Iraq" and Obama's famous line about being opposed to "dumb wars" reveal the view among liberal intellectuals that the country's problems arose because Bush was a dunce.

It played well to the liberal base that sees Bush as Will Ferrell's impersonation of him: a dope who was led around by Dick Cheney and a cabal of war-mongering oil barons. And as the Iraq war bogged down, New Orleans moldered under floodwaters and the Panic of 2008 wiped out retirement accounts, the idea that it could all be blamed on Bush's incompetence was appealing.

It was certainly more appealing than a more "nuanced" (as Kerry would say) view that America, in the third decade of its third century, faced some nearly impossible challenges.

Agree with him or not, George W. Bush was no dummy. But assuming that he was one allowed Obama to believe the job of being president was easier than it is.

Obama's misapprehension will pay bitter dividends for his presidency for years to come.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Chris Stirewalt

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Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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