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Oil response critic concedes Obama's getting it right

By James Carville, CNN Contributor
  • A critic of Obama on Gulf efforts, James Carville praises him after his address
  • Carville says Obama hired the right guy to develop a long-term plan to revitalize region
  • He also thinks Obama urged BP to set aside $20 billion fund, stop shareholder dividends
  • He lauds Obama for choosing Ken Feinberg, not BP, to oversee compensation

Editor's note: CNN political contributor James Carville was chief strategist for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Carville is a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, where he teaches political science at Tulane University and serves as co-chairman of the 2013 Super Bowl Host Committee.

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- Before the president's address to the nation from the Oval Office, my pal Paul Begala, on "John King USA," reminded everyone of the words of William Shakespeare: "Action is eloquence." By that standard, President Obama has been powerfully eloquent.

He announced that a "son of the Gulf Coast," Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, will develop a long-term plan to restore the Gulf. Mr. Secretary, retired Cpl. Carville, United States Marine Corps, salutes you.

The president has told Mabus to work with fishermen, small businesses, and environmentalists -- as well as state officials -- to design the plan. That's a long-term solution to a long-term problem. Our Gulf Coast supplies America with food and energy, not to mention great music and irreplaceable culture. It will take years to undo the damage.

So in addition to the helter-skelter of trying to cap the well, capture the oil, and clean up the mess, I like seeing a long-range strategy to renew, repair and revitalize the Gulf region. This project must be serious, sustained and substantial: An entire way of life is at stake.

So that's the long-run plan. But as John Maynard Keynes said, "In the long run, we're all dead." That's why today's announcement that BP will fund a $20 billion victims' recovery fund is so important. This ain't rhetoric. This is money. And if money talks, $20 billion screams.

And it gets better. Instead of BP being the paymaster, and a parsimonious one at that -- it has spent more on lobbying and advertising than on compensating victims -- the $20 billion fund will be independently administered by Ken Feinberg, the man who oversaw the 911 compensation fund.

Obviously, I was not in the meeting that President Obama had with the BP officials. I suspect I'm even less welcome at the White House these days than Tony Hayward, given my heartfelt and vocal criticism of how Obama was handling the Gulf crisis.

But it looks as if President Obama applied a little old- school Chicago persuasion to the oil executives, because BP's chairman not only agreed to the full $20 billion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu asked for, he also pledged to suspend quarterly dividends immediately. Paying victims before shareholders -- what a concept.

Look, we have a long way to go before this Cajun stops ragin'. But just as I hammered the White House when I thought they were too lackadaisical, honesty compels me to praise the president for his concrete, significant -- and eloquent -- action today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Carville.

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