As the disaster dragged on, he had an uncharacteristically hard time connecting with the common man, in this case fishermen and oil workers.
The months-long spill forced him to make his first Oval Office address and get down to the Gulf Coast. He sharpened his words to BP and promised to hold the oil industry to higher standards. He invited family members of the 11 workers killed to the White House.
While Obama struggled, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, was on the attack. Dressed in cowboy boots and working man’s shirts, he railed against Obama, invited the TV cameras along on choreographed tours of the oil-stained coast, where he blamed the president for putting up red tape he said stopped the state from trapping oil offshore with sand barriers, even though experts questioned how effective that tactic would be.
Jindal also charged that Obama was causing even more misery by imposing a moratorium on offshore drilling, which kept the state’s oil industry employees out of work.
Jindal’s performance helped him make up for what many in his party considered a miserable Republican response he made to Obama’s first State of the Union speech in 2009. This year, Jindal was mentioned as a possible Romney running mate.
Disasters haven’t always been such politically charged moments.
Theodore Roosevelt didn’t head out to the West Coast after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. There simply was no way to get there quickly.
‘‘It wasn’t something a president needed to do,’’ Brinkley said. ‘‘You didn’t become the insect in the jar getting shook up if you didn’t visit the (disaster) site.’’
For Cooley, the 9th Ward resident, the benefit of having a Romney or an Obama see the problems in person remains as dubious as it was in Roosevelt’s day.
‘‘What are both of them going to do? Come down here and look?’’ he said.
‘‘I need lights. I don’t need a president.’’