Democratic strategist James Carville upset about oil spill; White House pushes back

By Anne E. Kornblut
Friday, May 28, 2010

In the Gulf Coast oil spill, there is man vs. nature. Then there is James Carville vs. the White House.

The irascible Democratic strategist has been on a rampage over the government handling of the spill in his native gulf region, accusing President Obama of "political stupidity" and saying the administration has been "lackadaisical."

"It just looks like he's not involved in this," Carville said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." Visibly agitated, Carville said: "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to die down here."

Carville -- nicknamed the Ragin' Cajun as far back as his days as an adviser to President Bill Clinton -- has grown more outraged with each passing day, culminating with his taking a boat tour of the damaged waterways on CNN earlier in the week.

Now irritated White House officials are pushing back.

"James has always been a very passionate person, and this is obviously a very emotional issue for him," said David Axelrod, a White House senior adviser. "What I haven't heard is exactly what he thinks we should do that we aren't doing. We're just looking for constructive ideas, and we're not turning any away."

White House officials said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen called Carville last week to discuss the government response but Carville had not called him back.

"No one doubts James's motivations here -- he is a resident of a great city that is at terrible risk right now," one senior White House official said. "We just wish he would let us help him get his facts right."

Officials said that Donna Brazile, another Louisiana Democrat who had been on television criticizing the cleanup, was recently briefed by the administration on its efforts.

Although a Democratic Party stalwart and a close friend of Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Carville is an outsider to this White House. In a phone interview, Carville acknowledged getting a call from Allen but said the two had played phone tag. And he was unapologetic about his criticism.

He seemed, in fact, to delight in hearing he had gotten under the president's skin, noting that Obama had been defensive about criticism of his response during an East Room news conference.

"If he had one bullet and James Carville and [BP chief executive] Tony Hayward were sitting there, who would he shoot? I wouldn't take my chances," Carville said.

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