Oil flow has stopped, but not political damage to Obama 

President Obama basked Monday in what seems to be the end of the Gulf oil spill.

"The battle to stop the oil from flowing into the Gulf is just about over," Obama said at the White House.

"I made a commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast that I would stand by them not just until the well was closed but until they recovered from the damage that's been done," he said. "And that's a commitment my administration is going to keep."

The White House was touting a $3 billion payment from BP toward an eventual $20 billion restitution fund for victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including those who rely on Gulf Coast waters for their livelihood.

It was a solid start on a goal Obama launched to address the environmental and economic toll of the spill.

But while he may eventually reap some political benefits for his management of the crisis, so far Obama's efforts have shown little result.

a USA Today/Gallup poll last week found 51 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of the spill, and improving conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have not demonstrably improved his standing in recent months.

Two separate polls in June and July found 53 percent said they disapproved of Obama's leadership in the disaster -- despite a major push by the administration to engage the problem and deal with it.

"If you don't get out in front of it at the beginning, it's really hard to make claims of success later on," said George C. Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A&M University.

The administration's initial, slow response and subdued early management of the crisis was too "no-drama Obama," without sufficient political vigor, Edwards said.

Obama early in the crisis installed Ret. Admiral Thad Allen, a former Coast Guard official, as national incident commander for the spill. Allen's stolid presence and military bearing gave some much-needed bulwark to the administration's response effort.

But the president remained somewhat detached, with regular briefings on the matter behind closed doors and trips to Gulf Coast -- including a planned family getaway this weekend -- that felt perfunctory.

Obama was unable to use the crisis as a wedge to push his climate bill through Congress as many environmental groups had hoped.

But "that was never going to happen because the administration never did the political work they needed to do a year ago to get that done," said Frank Maisano, an energy policy expert at Bracewell & Giuliani.

Maisano added of the climate bill, "This is a low-priority issue for most people. They just don't care that much. And at least a third of the Democratic caucus was queasy about doing it, anyway."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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