Politicians, pundits and activists are rushing to capitalize on the BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and unleashed a torrent of crude that could devastate parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
In response to critics who've accused President Barack Obama of reacting sluggishly, the White House posted a lengthy chronology on its blog Wednesday morning "in the spirit of transparency so the American people can have a clear understanding of what their government has been and is doing" about the disaster.
A day earlier, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) fired off an e-mail urging supporters to sign a petition to "stand with President Obama to hold BP accountable."
"The Obama administration has vowed to 'keep a boot on the throat' of BP to ensure the corporation is held accountable for the spill," said the Democrats' message. It also ripped "Republican leader Rush Limbaugh" -- who claimed on his radio show that "environmentalist wackos" opposed to offshore drilling might have blown up the oil rig, and later argued there was no need to do anything about the slick because nature would take care of cleaning up the mess.
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft accused the DSCC of "shamelessly politicizing a tragedy," and a post by Weasel Zippers blogger "momma" called the petition e-mail "a disgrace."
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele struck back with this statement: "It is unconscionable that Democrats would seek to exploit for crass political fundraising a tragedy that killed 11 Americans and threatens to become the worst environmental disaster in American history. At a time when questions are being asked about the White House's initial response to the incident, the Democrats' political machine has gotten far out ahead of basic human decency."
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"Petitioning the White House to keep doing what it's doing is a bit of an odd stance, but the world of political e-mail is always a bit detached from reality, and petitions are a great way both of harvesting e-mail addresses and of bringing supporters smoothly onto the contribution page, which is where a petition signature takes you," noted Politico's Ben Smith.
MoveOn.org also dived into the oil spill controversy with a YouTube video that includes images of the blazing Deepwater Horizon rig and calls on the president to reinstate the ban on new offshore drilling. Obama announced last month he would permit new oil and gas exploration in some coastal areas, but the disaster off the Louisiana coast has left that plan in limbo.
Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, whose reputation was one of Hurricane Katrina's casualties, resurfaced this week to accuse the president of "playing politics" with the crisis and waiting for the oil spill to get worse so he could reverse himself on offshore drilling.
"This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, 'I'm gonna shut it down because it's too dangerous,'" Brown told Fox's Neil Cavuto on Monday. "This president has never supported Big Oil, he's never supported offshore drilling and now he has an excuse to shut it back down." (Click here to watch the video.)
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs publicly scolded Fox for letting Brown's remark go unchallenged. But "Brownie" was grilled by others on Tuesday. He told Politico his comment was "figurative." In interviews with CNN's Anderson Cooper and MSNBC's Chris Matthews (who said claiming that the president wanted an oil spill makes Brown sound "insane"), he backed off a bit, but repeatedly charged the White House with taking advantage of the disaster.
"We're seeing the Rahm Emanuel rule No. 1 taking effect, and that is to let no crisis go unused," Brown told Matthews. (Click here to watch the video.)
It's Brown who's using the crisis to "score pitiful political points against the Democrats," complained Joseph A. Palermo in a Huffington Post article.
"The AstroTurf groups are in overdrive trying to either deflect blame from the oil corporations or somehow frame the coverage of the disaster, as Brownie is trying to do, in a way where it cuts against the Democrats and people who care about the environment," Palermo wrote. "But it's the rhetoric of failure."
Florida, one of the states threatened by the spreading oil slick, could be the first to experience the political consequences of the disaster. Veteran Florida reporter Jim DeFede suggested today that it might save Gov. Charlie Crist's career. Crist, who was trailing Marco Rubio badly in the GOP Senate primary race, abandoned his party last week and decided to run as an unaffiliated candidate.
"Politicians always look better when they appear to be doing something. And for Crist, being able to change the conversation from his inability to win the Republican primary to his efforts to protect the state from future catastrophes like this one is a godsend," DeFede wrote for The Daily Beast.
Whether it's because of the oil, Crist's declaration of independence or something else, Rasmussen Reports says the Florida Senate race suddenly "appears to be a whole new ballgame." This week's Rasmussen poll shows Crist has pulled ahead of Rubio, 38 percent to 34 percent, and Democrat Kendrick Meek with 17 percent of the vote.