Is the Political Risk Over the Oil Spill Overrated?

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On the mainpage, TIME’s political pro Mark Halperin judges how much the oil spill has damaged Obama’s presidency. Not as much as many of us believe—Halperin argues that dealing with unforeseen catastrophes has become the “new normal” of life on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that after an initially sluggish response, Obama’s team has taken the political fight to its opponents. And unlike Hurricane Katrina, there is a clear villain in this story and it’s not Obama—BP is the bad guy, first and last. (It’s probably not coincidental that the name of the official website on the spill recently changed from the “Unified Command for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill” to the “Unified Command for the BP Oil Spill.”) Here’s how Halperin put it:

In the long term, however, the situation in the Gulf, tragic though it may be, is unlikely to really dirty Obama himself. BP is the villain of the piece, after all, and the company’s increasingly furtive, fishy behavior and damning paper trail suggest they will bear the blame. Without question, Obama has suffered a string of bad weeks, making real mistakes that have emboldened conservative attackers and paying a heavy price (although his poll ratings are hardly in free fall). But the President’s other priorities — financial reform, education, jobs, energy, the Kagan nomination, foreign policy, managing the midterms — are continuing apace. When the leak is plugged, the Deepwater Horizon is no longer the lead story and Obama is no longer a big fat juicy oil-slicked target, Republicans just might look back and feel they overpicked a fight that distracted them from the real wars at hand.

It would be a political magic trick if Obama could emerge clean from the oily muck of the Gulf spill—but it’s not like he hasn’t pulled a few rabbits from his hat in the past.