In his first Oval Office speech, President Obama tells us we're a bunch of oil junkies in need of green detox. Inspiring.
Because there has never been a leak of this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge...As a result of these efforts, we have directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90% of the oil leaking out of the well.
In other words, the president was quick off the mark with a science team. He lost no time. For its part, however, BP was foot dragging and directionless. But after Team Obama figured everything out scientifically, the president and his people took control, told BP what to do, and now the gusher will soon become a trickle. Hurray!
But anyone who has agonized through the drama of these eight weeks knows that this account is a fiction. There was a period when the administration was simply not engaged. Then there was a monitoring of the situation as BP attempted various capping methods. Then followed the present period of bluster as the administration became aware of how bad it looked politically to be simply looking on with concern.
So the president has decided to go to war: "we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes." He will fight it on the beaches! Having done FDR with the recession, he is now Churchill with the oil spill. He lays out a "battle plan." He has authorized deployment the National Guard (even to help with clerical work). These "troops" along with "thousands of ships and other vessels" and 30,000 additional personnel are a "mobilization" to fight back "the approaching oil" which he calls a "siege."
Of course, this is not a war that the government is capable of fighting. Only BP has the expertise and technology to get the job done, and that has proven to be shaky. But Democratic governments, especially one headed by Barack Obama, cannot stand to be viewed as anything less than omnipotent. So the president has turned to frothy declarations of being in charge.
From the bluster stage, we enter a stage of new danger: government threats, bullying, and revenge as political theatre.
I refuse to let that happen. Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.
Notice the self-reference: "I refuse to let that happen." "I will...inform him." Is he forcing BP into this arrangement based on his personal authority? Is there any legal basis for this? I haven’t heard of any. Have we departed completely from the rule of law to gangsta gov’ment?
Then he assigns a share of blame to the American people for our "addiction to fossil fuels." (He says it twice.) Addiction? We have a prosperous way of life that requires energy derived from oil and coal. Where's the addiction? Is it in our unwillingness to live they way they do in Afghanistan? Or is it our "century-long" refusal to switch to cleaner, greener forms of energy because we get the shakes if we're not burning the black stuff? No, that makes no sense. It was a presidential backhand across the public face. "Get off the oil, ya dumb slut!" Picture an alcoholic so desperate for a belt that he's drinking shoe polish. Similarly, he tells us that we are so desperate for oil and we have so depleted the earth's reserves that we are drilling a mile below the surface of the water...and now this! He doesn't mention that BP was out there with the other companies because his environmentalist dominated government wouldn't let them drill in the shallows, to say nothing of ANWAR in Alaska. No, we're the problem, and the president is going to help us dry out.
Our recovery from addiction will take a long time and will be expensive, but so was World War II and the space program that landed a man on the moon, he reminds us. So let's rise to challenge! Those were clear national security threats, however. The one involved Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the other the USSR. The addiction threat is not so clear. Tonight, America was ready for an oil-spill-and-what-we're-doing-about-it speech. The connection between the oil spill and the need to get off oil entirely will strike most people as a leap, as indeed it should. If the president's goal tonight was not to let a crisis go to waste, but to mobilize a panicked American public behind his carbon capping and taxing legislation, he will close out the week a very disappointed man.
And here's news. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann laying into Obama for his speech.
Where's the leadership? No tingle here.
James Fallows, 25 years with The Atlantic and former Jimmy Carter speech writer, gives us three ways the Obama speech failed. Interestingly, he reminds me that George W. Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address told us, "America is addicted to oil." I guess that didn't upset me because he did not have a record as a chide who is constantly apologizing for his country. But he had no business making the charge either.
P.S. I also noticed those flapping hands at the bottom of the screen. Didn't they do a once through? Why wouldn't someone catch that, and advise him to keep his hands still?
Clive Crook, also of The Atlantic, says, "he would have been wise to give no speech rather than this speech."
And we'll give the final word to George Will: "Word Spill: Our Demosthenes is Alibi Ike." He says, "The news about his speech is that it is no longer news that he often gives bad speeches. This one, however, was almost magnificently awful." Whoever wrote this speech should be fired, and whoever asked for it (the guy who delivered it) should feel life changing embarrassment.