First and foremost, GHW Bush was not subjected to the partisan environment and crazy right-wing allegations that Obama is subject to. There are those who will never admit Obama has done anything right even if he was Christ himself.
Second, the Valdez was much simpler than the Gulf spill. It was above water and the flow rate could be easily determined so that the appropriate response could quickly be formulated. It was much harder to hide the size and rate of the spill. BP has every reason to hide the size and flow rate of the Gulf spill to limit liability, and their initial claims to size and flow rate could not be verified, so the appropriateness of the response could not be easily determined. Remember, BP's initial estimate was 1000 barrels a day - off by 25 to 40 times.
Third, the Valdez response was a disaster because it was left to Exxon alone. Lots of new legislation came out of it. Looks like it may have been a total waste of time and money. More will come of this spill, indicating a lack of acceptability of the response for both BP and the government.
Obama is doing more of everything than GHW Bush and taking more criticism - some justified and some just right-wingnut idiocy. But it could be worse. McCain (or God forbid Palin) could be in office. Then everything would be much worse still.
I fault the government (congress and the presidency) for creating the situation where the MMS is a toothless rubber-stamp of the oil industry. This is not Obama's fault - goes back many years before, but Obama has to fix this dysfunctional mess of a response. I do risk assessment work, and never would I be allowed to turn in an assessment that indicates "no significant damage is expected." You develop a range of potential risks given certain events scenarios (some very extreme), quantify what potential hazards expect (and assumptions) and qualify those you can't put numbers to, build in safety factors, and present the data to the agency who decides how much response may be needed given events.
Any spill ("significant" or not) should trigger a response. The size of the response is the question. Send what you think is needed out and get the next higher level of response ready to take effect if the simpler response doesn't work.
As BP has acknowledged, their response plans were inadequate, but so was the governments management of the response. They did not demand ahead of time that enough resources be in place AHEAD of the catastrophe to have a timely response. I like Obama and think he is doing a good job as president (you can tell by all the angry wingnuts on the right this is the case) and don't believe this is "Obama's fault," but the buck does stop with him. I think he can make it right by putting policies in place and cleaning up the MMS.
What would be the result if there was a multi-billion dollar spill response fund to compensate victims and mitigate damage that the oil companies had to pay into at a rate based on their safety record? Like paying an insurance premium. Would it have saved the men who died because of cutting corners by BP? Would the spill have occurred or been more manageable. It is all Monday-morning QBing now. Such a fund is socializing the costs of the spill somewhat (forced insurance) but it is protecting social interest and it is in societies interest to have some safe drilling until we can diversify our energy sources and maybe reduce (or at least slow the expansion) of drilling.
What about expertise? Drilling and capping expertise lies with the industry while environmental cleanup expertise lies elsewhere (EPA, national labs, academia, states, private companies). Can't a response advisory team be developed when needed to quickly id complex problems like the Gulf spill?? Just some thoughts.