Will Obama Increase his Presence on the Gulf Coast?

GRAND ISLE, La. -- President Obama's visit to the Gulf today is his second in 39 days. President Bush visited the region 7 times in 36 days after Katrina.

In many ways, it's not a fair comparison. More than 1,800 people died in Katrina, and a faster government response might have saved many lives.

And Mr. Obama says that from day one he was meeting with top officials, ordering a massive response that now includes about 20,000 people and 1,300 boats and ships.

But while vigorously defending the administration's response yesterday, he also went through a list of mea culpas, a clear sign that he understands that he's in a political hole and needs to start digging his way out .

He said there wasn't sufficient urgency in changing the culture of corruption at the Minerals Management Service and, he said, "Absolutely I take responsibility for that."

He admitted that BP's interest is in minimizing the damage - something everyone in America already knew -- and confessed that his efforts "fell short" in keeping BP honest about the size of the spill.

And he said the words that make politicians gag: "I was wrong" in believing the oil companies had their act together when it came to responding to worst case scenarios.

Obama Defends Oil Spill Response, Cites Mistakes
Obama on Katrina Comparison: "I'll Let You Decide"
Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

But while his performance was a good start on the road to recovery, what's still missing is Presidential presence. Democrats from James Carville to Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu say he has taken a serious hit due to his lack of visibility. In a disaster, people need to SEE that the president is involved, and it's a mystery to many friends and critics alike why Mr. Obama - a man with razor sharp political sensibilities - would be so out of public view on a disaster that has a huge impact on so many lives.

I'm writing this while riding (not driving, I promise) through the Louisiana bayou on the way to Grand Isle on the Gulf Coast. To an avid fisherman, it's stunningly beautiful. And it's heartbreaking to think what could happen to this area over the coming months.

Political analyst Larry Sabato says we are a society that likes to fix blame, and when things go wrong, the president gets a big piece of it.

What's the president to do? Sabato says, "He has got to go back as frequently as possible. He is going to have to go back there as often or more often than George W. Bush did after Katrina."

When the benchmark for success is President Bush's response to Katrina, you know you've got alot of work to do.

More From Obama Press Conference:

Obama: There's a Reason I Never Said "Drill, Baby, Drill"
Obama's Critics "Don't Know the Facts"
Obama Reacts to MMS and Response
Obama: Malia Asked "Did you Plug The Hole Yet, Daddy?"
Oil Spill Hits Home for Obama
Obama: I Don't Endorse - or Not Endorse - Arizona Boycott
Obama: "Nothing Improper" in Alleged Sestak Job Offer
Sestak Job Offer: "Nothing Improper Took Place"

Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.