Should the public be angry with the president over his seemingly desultory response to the oil spill? Probably not. At least they shouldn't fault Mr. Obama to the extent some commentators are.
There are things the president could have done but didn't do, to be sure, but the appearance of detachment doesn't mean that his administration hasn't been engaged. Indeed, much of the criticism of the president's insouciance in the midst of the crisis sounds like Monday-morning second-guessing and an attempt to squeeze out of the disaster a few political points. I'm willing to give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt that, aside from granting Louisiana permission to build the sand berms they wanted to build, it may be that there's just not much more he could've done.
But. Do I think growing public anger at the president is poetic justice? Absolutely. When George Bush's administration was reluctant to override local authorities after Katrina, the Democrats, including Senator Obama prominent among them, criticized him mercilessly and unfairly for his hesitation. Indeed, it was the withering criticism of Mr. Bush from such as Mr. Obama for waiting a day or two before losing patience with the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans and restoring order to the city of New Orleans himself that caused Americans to begin to lose confidence in his competence in 2005.
Moreover, it was candidate Obama who prophesied that people would look back on his nomination as the day that the seas stopped rising and the planet began to heal. That sort of pomposity makes it hard to feel sorry for the man who finds himself helpless in the face of what may turn out to be the worst ecological disaster in our nation's history.
Finally, the problem with capping the leak is that it's a mile under the ocean. Why are we drilling in such deep waters in the first place when there's so much easily accessible oil on land and in shallower seas? Because the Democrats, including Mr. Obama, have blocked for decades attempts to drill for oil in places like Alaska or in shallower waters where leaks could be plugged in a matter of hours.
So, the criticism of Mr. Obama's failure to stop the BP oil spill may be technically a bit unfair, but given the harshness of his judgment of Mr. Bush, given his almost buffoonish confidence in his own ability to bring about ecological healing, and given the fact of his complicity in forcing the oil companies to mine in much more treacherous locales than they would prefer, it's hard to be sympathetic.