Drowning in oil, the Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to halt the hemorrhaging of liberal support which is driving his ratings down to the low 40s — previously unexplored territory.
Obama has already lost all the Republicans and almost all of the independents. But he has kept his head above water with the solid support of liberal Democrats and African-Americans. But now that the Gulf oil spill enters its eighth week, with no sign of abating, he is shedding Democrats.
It is not that the gushing oil will drive a single Democrat to vote Republican. The GOP's strong support for offshore drilling will bar such switches. But the increasing image of incompetence, arrogance, and poor management skills may induce millions of Democrats to stay home during the midterm elections of 2010.
The oil spill will not cost Obama the presidency in 2012. It is too far away for that. But it may be a big part of his losing Congress this year.
To forestall this possibility, the administration is sending every possible signal to the left of its fidelity.
To assuage the environmentalists, it is pushing new energy legislation, possibly resurrecting the cap and trade proposal.
To bring back Latinos, he is espousing immigration reform, a cause he never got around to pushing until now when he needs their votes desperately.
He has Rahm Emanuel out there knocking Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas for his knuckle-headed defense of BP. And he may be preparing to throw Rahm to the wolves and force his resignation as a sop to the leftists who feel that his pragmatism has hijacked the administration.
But none of these measures will stop the gushing of oil.
Obama acts as if he and BP are in a zero-sum game where the company's loss translates into his gain. But BP is not his opponent.
Building up the company's negatives won't help Obama keep control of Congress. And flagellating it in public will make people feel good, but it will just serve to emphasize the fact that the oil is still gushing.
Confronting a crisis that they cannot solve, presidents have a choice: Move the national attention to other issues even at the risk of appearing unconcerned or uninvolved in the crisis or focus on the crisis to prove that you care and are working hard to resolve it.
Clinton chose the first response to the Lewinsky/impeachment drive. Carter opted for the second in the Iran hostage crisis.
Now Obama appears drowning in oil. He can't change the subject. He can't stop the spill. Even his attacks on BP just serve to keep the oil at the top of the national agenda.
If he moves on to other issues, he risks alienating the environmental left by appearing to let the oil gush while he turns his back.
To the right and the center, the oil spill is a management issue, indicative of Obama's lack of administrative experience. Community organizers and law professors don't know how to handle oil spills. But to the left, it is an environmental issue pure and simple.
Each barrel of oil that flows into the Gulf is a sin against nature and alienates those for whom environment is the key issue. And Obama can ill afford to lose them.
So Obama is stuck — drowning in oil with no relief in sight.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann