Democratic strategist James Carville and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, two reliable supporters of President Barack Obama, have issued withering critiques of the administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill.
Carville, the famously outspoken Louisianian who was a chief political aide to Bill and Hillary Clinton, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday that the administration's response to the spill has been "lackadaisical" and that Obama was "naive" to trust BP to manage the massive clean-up effort.
"I think they actually believe that BP has some kind of a good motivation here," he said. "They're naive! BP is trying to save money, save everything they can... They won't tell us anything, and oddly enough, the government seems to be going along with it! Somebody has got to, like shake them and say, 'These people don't wish you well! They're going to take you down!'"
Carville also accused the White House of going along with what he called the "let BP handle it" strategy.
"I'm as good a Democrat as most people, and I think this administration has done some good things. They are risking everything by this 'go along with BP' strategy they have that seems like, lackadaisical on this, and Doug is right, they seem like they're inconvenienced by this, this is some giant thing getting in their way and somehow or another, if you let BP handle it, it'll all go away. It's not going away. It's growing out there. It is a disaster of the first magnitude, and they've got to go to Plan B."
Likewise, Chris Matthews argued during a "Tonight Show" appearance that the President was "acting a little like a Vatican Observer."
"The President scares me," he said. "When is he actually going to do something? And I worry; I know he doesn't want to take ownership of it. I know politics. He said the minute he says, 'I'm in charge,' he takes the blame, but somebody has to. It's in our interest."
The Obama administration has thus far avoided the political backlash that President George W. Bush faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in part by comprehensively documenting its actions in the Gulf and staying on message ("Fully engaged since Day One...").
But crude oil has now been erupting into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month, and the sense that the Obama administration is treating the spill as an urgent national emergency has diminished even as the impact of the disaster has magnified. Not until yesterday, critics note, a full 30 days after the oil rig explosion, did federal officials establish a technical team to measure the full extent of the spill.
Until now, the vast bulk of clean-up responsibilities have been left to BP, which isn't much closer to capping the oil leak now than it was weeks ago. The oil has already affected nearly 50 miles of sensitive marshlands on the Louisiana coastline, according to estimates by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and federal authorities have increased the no-fishing zone to 45,728 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has consistently downplayed the severity of the spill despite growing evidence that suggests otherwise, and their strategy to clean up the spill has involved the use of a toxic chemical dispersant that EPA officials warn may cause lasting damage to coastal ecosystems.
The EPA has now given BP 24 hours to begin using a less toxic dispersant, but Carville says the government's primary failure was trusting BP to handle the clean-up in the first place.
"Right now I wouldn't trust BP to do anything," he said. "And nobody does."