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In New Orleans, Gulf oil spill anger turns to Obama

Criticism of Obama for his handling of the Gulf oil spill, though still muted, sounds much like that of President Bush after Katrina.

By Bill SasserCorrespondent / July 12, 2010

The New Orleans skyline and Lake Pontchartrain are seen from Gov. Bobby Jindals's helicopter on July 6. The Gulf oil spill has many New Orleanians upset with the federal government.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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New Orleans

Here in the French Quarter's Jackson Square, unrest over BP's handling of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Gulf oil spill has turned to anger at the Obama administration.

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“This is not just an economic crisis, it is a cultural crisis,” organizer Lauren Goldfinch told a crowd of protesters Saturday, wearing a homemade BP T-shirt smeared with what appeared to be oil. “I’m not here to condemn the use of oil, but to demand accountability for this disaster. We need transparency and accountability now.”

Still recovering from hurricane Katrina, economically intertwined with the oil industry, and on the front lines of the ongoing war with oil in the Gulf, New Orleanians understandably have complicated feelings about the newest disaster knocking on their door.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

Although only a single sign in the crowd referred to the Obama administration – a man wearing an Uncle Sam costume held one that read “Mr. President, Take Control of BP Now” – New Orleanians are growing increasingly frustrated with the administration’s handling of the crisis, oil spill activists say.

An electoral island of blue in a predominately red state, New Orleans was carried by Obama with 59 percent of the vote in 2008, while winning less than 40 percent statewide. But 11 weeks into the BP oil well disaster, criticism of Obama in the city, though still muted, sounds much like that of President George W. Bush after Katrina.

“Too little, too late—it’s the same thing again,” said Ms. Goldfinch, a member of the grass-roots Krewe of Dead Pelicans. “People are pretty upset and enraged, but don’t want to criticize Obama, because policy-wise he’s probably the best president we’ve had on the environment. But from letting BP use [the dispersant] Corexit to blocking the media and making it easier for [BP] to get away with murder, this has been a corporate controlled disaster. His response has been pretty bad.”

While no recent polls have been conducted in Louisiana, national polls show that the crisis is affecting Obama’s approval ratings. A Marist poll from June 30 found that a majority of American voters think his handling of the oil spill is the same or worse than President Bush's handling of hurricane Katrina. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said the response to the BP spill was at least as bad as Katrina, including 23 percent who said it was worse.

A CBS poll in mid June found that 45 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of the Gulf crisis (70 percent disapproved of BP’s performance), with 35 percent approving. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from June 23 found that Obama’s overall job approval rating had dropped to 45 percent – 5 points lower than in May and the lowest level of his presidency – while 48 percent said they disapproved of his performance. Half disapproved of his handling of the spill.

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