CNN's Anderson Cooper first defended the Obama administration's initial response to the Gulf oil leak and then criticized him from the left on Tuesday's AC360: "A month ago, it seemed like the federal government was on top of this. They were beating back claims...that this was Obama's Katrina." He later continued that "it doesn't seem like there's much pressure being applied to [BP], if it's there at all."
Cooper brought on CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and liberal presidential historian Douglas Brinkley for a panel discussion on the environmental disaster 25 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour. The anchor included his apologetic of the early response by the administration in his first question to Gergen: "David, I mean, a month ago, it seemed like the federal government was on top of this. They were beating back claims by conservatives that this was Obama's Katrina, and now, it seems that may have been premature."
Gergen agreed with Cooper's assessment: "In the beginning, this was a small isolated problem- at least it seemed so. And so, it was understandable that the government would leave the leadership on it to BP. But, since then...this has become a growing national emergency, and...it now demands a national response. It is...unacceptable- and I think it is to most Americans- to let the fate of our precious coastline and the waters off our shores rest in the hands of a foreign-owned company like BP....The President must take charge of this..."
Cooper then launched his liberal critique in his first question to Brinkley:
COOPER: Doug, you know, you have the secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, saying- you know, well, we're putting the boot on BP's neck. But it doesn't seem like there's much pressure being applied to that boot, if it's there at all. I mean, the EPA sent out a letter about- you know, stop using dispersants, but that's basically been ignored. And now, the EPA today is kind of saying- well, okay- well, now we're going to do our own research and try to find out. Why haven't they been doing research for the last- you know, month?
Brinkley, who acted as an Obama apologist earlier in May when some conservatives launched their Katrina comparison, agreed with "everything David Gergen just said" and advised that the President "take on a whole different tone of leadership." He also suggested that the Democratic leader up the ante: "We haven't had a bullhorn moment from President Obama. We haven't heard the passion and- you know, he's sickened by all this. It's a time we don't need the cool, collected Obama. We need the orator and the leader who's emotive."
The CNN anchor and his guests later took an attitude of collective surprise concerning the President's response to the oil disaster (contrast this with Cooper's "on-air breakdown" during the immediate aftermath of Katrina where he yelled at Senator Mary Landrieu):
COOPER: It is sort of fascinating, David, for a president who watched Katrina and saw the- you know, the failures of the Bush administration- and there were failures, also, at the state and local level, we all know, in Katrina. But for a president who saw that and- you know, was very critical of it, to now find himself in a situation in which he's being criticized for the lack of response or lack of coordination, is kind of stunning.
GERGEN: It is kind of stunning, Anderson, and you've been so close to both of these, and you must- you just must scratch your head and watch this, as we all do, but I think the critics who are saying this is sort of a coming Katrina in slow motion have a point. I am very sympathetic with what the administration has done. This is tough. It's very tough, and President Obama clearly cares, and we have to appreciate that. But it's not enough simply to care. You've got to take charge, and we've reached that moment in this crisis when I think he has to take charge.
BRINKLEY: Every time I see BP CEO Tony Hayward in Louisiana seeming to be in charge of our Gulf of Mexico- the failed CEO of BP, it's- it comes off as pathetic.
COOPER: Well, seeing him walk the beaches, I think it was yesterday- you know, with camera crews following him, this photo op- you know, finally, I guess, they decided not have him be interviewed in offices, because that made him look bad. So he was out on the beach. But- you know, to see him walk the beach followed by cameras was kind of a- you know, manufactured situation-
COOPER: But it is the kind of thing you want to see government leaders- you want to see the president of the United States and get the feeling that they're the ones in charge.
David Gergen, Douglas Brinkley, appreciate you being on tonight. Thanks.