The president is starting to look snakebit. He's starting to look unlucky, like Jimmy Carter. It wasn't Mr. Carter's fault that the American diplomats were taken hostage in Tehran, but he handled it badly, and suffered. He defied the rule of the King in "Pippin," the Broadway show of Carter's era, who spoke of "the rule that every general knows by heart, that it's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart." Mr. Carter's opposite was Bill Clinton, on whom fortune smiled with eight years of relative peace and a worldwide economic boom. What misfortune Mr. Clinton experienced he mostly created himself. History didn't impose it.
But Mr. Obama is starting to look unlucky, and–file this under Mysteries of Leadership–that is dangerous for him because Americans get nervous when they have a snakebit president. They want presidents on whom the sun shines.
It isn't Mr. Obama's fault that an oil rig blew in the Gulf and a gusher resulted. He already had two wars and the great recession. But the lack of adequate federal government response appropriately redounds on him. In a Wall Street Journal investigation published Thursday, reporters Jeffrey Ball and Jonathan Weisman wrote the federal government at first moved quickly, but soon "faltered." "The federal government, which under the law is in charge of fighting large spills, had to make things up as it went along." It hadn't anticipated a spill this big. The first weekend in May, when water was rough, contractors hired by BP to lay boom "mostly stayed ashore," according to a local official. "Shrimpers took matters into their own hands, laying 18,000 feet of boom," compared to about 4,000 feet by BP's contractors.