We've now had two major catastrophes within 5 years and two different administrations down in the Gulf, and neither case did the president distinguish himself as a leader.
In both cases neither president could have done anything to avert the catastrophic event itself, but in retrospect there's a lot they could have done to either lessen the human toll and certainly to have at least appeared to grasp the enormity of the calamity as it unfolded.
If you imagine yourself as president, there are some obvious things you could have done differently than the course Obama took. As soon as you heard about it, you'd have immediately called in your best "go to" guy (I guess for Obama Rahm would have to do*) and said "Find me the two top experts on this deep-water drilling stuff and bring them here immediately. I want to talk to them face-to-face." And when you got them in a room you'd find out that this thing could be spewing millions of barrels of oil for weeks on end with no obvious way to cap it off. Then you'd declare some kind of major state of emergency, demanded congress pass an emergency measure suspending any potential environmental/regulatory restrictions on your actions, met with the governors and business groups in the affected states and started on emergency measures to contain the spill, like building berms and organizing a flotilla to drop containment buoys.
Well that's easy to see in retrospect, but Obama didn't even come close to doing anything like this. Similarly with Bush - you hear that a Cat 5 hurricane is bearing down on New Orleans. How does he not get a full picture of what could happen in that city, and what would be the consequences for anyone left behind, then find out that the city and state are woefully unprepared to handle it so you're gonna take charge, dammit, and make sure the place is evacuated and there's plenty of federal assistance to alleviate the mess. Just out of pure political self interest, how do you not take these steps? Sure, it's hindsight, but leaders are supposed to see with foresight what the rest of us see in hindsight.
Is there something in the modern presidency that hindered these men for taking forceful action? An organic dedication to the principles of federalism is hardly plausible for either man. More plausible is that neither Bush nor Obama had any real leadership experience nor have any obvious leadership talent. Harry Truman
at least had some success as a captain in the front lines in WWI and later ran his own business - neither Bush nor Obama had demonstrated anything even approximating this level of leadership prior to assuming office (unless you count Bush's governorship, but that job didn't seem particularly challenging).
But when it comes to the kinds of real leadership that we expect from presidents - taking charge of a complex or critical situation and leading people to a successful outcome - we don't see much demand for that from the public in choosing candidates. The man who probably has most exhibited that quality among all the presidential hopefuls - Mitt Romney - barely even registers in the public consciousness. Some have demonstrated substantial political
leadership - for example, Newt Gingrich leading the Republicans to victory in 1994 - or even Lyndon Johnson's years running the Senate. But I'm talking about actually doing something - not winning an election or passing a bill, but actually leading physical activity that results in a real physical result, like a multi-national amphibious invasion of a continent or an Olympics that runs on time.
* Steve Sailer points out
that Obama doesn't actually know anybody who can help him, which is true, but how hard would it be to find someone who does? He's the president - who's going to turn down an emergency meeting in the Oval Office?