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Heck of a job

"Did this make you as angry as it made me?" That was opening line of a political ad that almost toppled Arlen Specter some 18 years ago, introduced by Democratic rival Lynn Yeakel, referring to Specter's grilling of Anita Hill. But it could just as easily be said about this picture of George W. Bush, flying far overheas just as the flooding that was triggered by Hurricane Katrina was overwhelming New Orleans. The passive helplessness of the White House response to the human suffering below was infuriating, and marked the end of Bush's popularity and the decline of his administration's authority.

I only bring it up now because I'm looking at President Barack Obama's response to the oil spill in the gulf, and wondering if it's really all that different. Especially when I read stuff like this:

Leading officials from President Barack Obama's administration will return to the Gulf Coast tomorrow to monitor the massive oil spill threatening the Louisiana coastline. Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, will lead a Senate delegation to fly over affected areas.

If there was a time to fly over the gulf at all, 33 days after the explosion of the British Petroleum oil rig that has oozed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf probably isn't it. I'm sure it was hard to get a handle in those first few hours on what was really going on down there at the Deepwater Horizon rig, but at some point very early on it should have been clear that what was happening off the coast of Louisiana and other Gulf states required the same sense of urgency as if the United States had been attacked by a large foreign power.

If such an attack happened, one hopes, government officials would be working through the night --and factories and warehouses would be working around the clock. So why not now? Why can't America supply the millions of feet of booms that are needed down there, for example? Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal asked for these things weeks ago. If the possibility that so much of the Gulf wetlands could be destroyed for good doesn't inspire a "war room" mentality, I can't imagine what does.

A presidential commission is fine and probably necessary -- but for God sakes, not now, now when a bubbling crude is still surging from the sea floor. It should have been obvious from about Day 2 or so that BP wasn't up to the task of managing the cleanup and that the government should have taken over, and taken over aggressively.

Meanwhile, two fallacies have been laid bare here. One is the Tea Party notion that government needs to get out of the way, when here is a case when the government could have been a lot more active -- and certainly pro-active -- in regulating the oil industry. And the other fallacy is that Barack Obama is a big government liberal, when in this matter he has not wielded his authority nearly enough.

Which is why two things come to mind: Which is history repeating itself in a government airplane high above the Gulf waters -- and also the phrase, "Heck of a job."