Obama Swings And Misses In Oval Office Address

President Obama used the prestige of his very first Oval Office speech to report to the American public on Day 57 of the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis, and it was, quite honestly, less than it should have been:

WASHINGTON — President Obama summoned Americans on Tuesday to a “national mission” to move away from reliance on oil and develop alternative sources of energy, demanding that Congress move quickly to overcome “a lack of political courage and candor.”

Speaking to a national television audience from the Oval Office, Mr. Obama also promised a long-term plan to make sure that the gulf states suffering from the oil spill are made whole again. He said he was appointing Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy and the former governor of Mississippi, to develop a Gulf Coast restoration plan in cooperation with states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, conservationists and gulf residents.

“Today, as we look to the gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude,” Mr. Obama said. “We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.”

For Mr. Obama, the 18-minute address, in which he spoke from his desk, took place in a far different venue from the crowded campaign rallies, international university halls and banquet rooms where he has produced some of his most soaring speeches. This time, Mr. Obama, wearing a dark blue suit and light blue tie, struck a solemn tone but a hopeful one as he spoke of the American ingenuity he said was now needed to help the country rein in its reliance on oil.

Seizing on the widening oil calamity in the Gulf of Mexico to push for legislation he has advocated since his campaign, Mr. Obama said he was willing to look at approaches from Democrats and Republicans, including raising efficiency standards for buildings as well as cars and trucks.

But, he warned: “The one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet.”

Beyond a now familiar recitation of the things that Obama says were done in the immediate aftermath of the April 20th explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, there was very little substance in the speech beyond promises that the Gulf region would be restored to a state better than it was before the accident and that BP would pay for everything.

Even when he repeated his energy independence talking points, the President was fairly vague and certainly didn’t use the speech as an opportunity to lay down the gauntlet for a Senate that seems increasingly un-eager to take up the Cap & Trade legislation before the November elections. In fact, the speech was more remarkable for what Obama didn’t say than what he did — there were no deadlines, no calls for citizens to call their Senators, and not even a mention of the phrase “cap and trade.” Perhaps this is because the White House knows that the battle in the Senate is one they’re not likely to win.

I will say that there was one specific provision in the speech that I think is a good idea, and that relates to Obama’s announcement that he would be pressuring BP to establish an escrow fund from which claims can be paid. While the fears about BP’s fiscal solvency may prove to be unfounded, ensuring that justly owed claims will be paid in full is the least that BP can do at this point.

The real purpose of tonight’s speech, though, was to put a stop to the talk both inside and outside the beltway that Obama has let the crisis get away from him and that he hasn’t displayed the kind of leadership that the American public supposedly expects in these respects.  Judging from the reaction from those people who are usually the President’s allies, one would have to say that he didn’t succeed in that task at all.

Here, for example, is Ezra Klein’s take:

[H]is language was a close echo of the language he used in the health-care fight. “There are costs associated with this transition,” he said, using a formulation many will remember from health care. “And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy.” Similarly familiar was his reminder that “I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels,” and his promise that “the one approach I will not accept is inaction.”

The optimistic take, at least for environmentalists, is that this is the language and approach Obama uses when he really means to legislate. The pessimistic take is that Obama shied away from clearly describing the problem, did not endorse specific legislation, did not set benchmarks, and chose poll-tested language rather than a sharper case that might persuade skeptics.

Even more remarkable is the reaction of two people who have perhaps been the President’s biggest cheerleaders in the media, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann:

The White House was clearly hoping that tonight’s speech, along with the just concluded two-day trip to the Gulf region, would start to turn the political tide for the Obama Administration. If that was the goal, I think it’s fairly clear that Obama completely failed to achieve it.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Environment, Oil Spill, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Why are people so surprised that a man with no executive experience acts like a man with no executive experience. Those mad teleprompter skills just are not a substitute for true leadership.

    Leaders do not make assigning blame job one.

  2. anjin-san says:

    Why are people so surprised that a man with no executive experience acts like a man with no executive experience

    Well, GHW Bush was arguably the best prepared man to be President in our history, yet he was a mediocre leader.

    Why are people surprised when you repeat Fox talking points as if they were the wisdom of the ages? Actually, no one is…

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Why do people label any criticism of the President a “talking point’? Independent thought is out there and we on the right don’t rely on Fox or the RNC for common sense observations. This president is failing in so many ways it’s hard to keep track. Face it, he sold himself to the American people as something he is not and is likely never to be. His house of cards is falling apart.

  4. Well anjin-san, since I haven’t watched Fox News in years I guess it must be a coincidence if that is one of their talking points.

    FWIW, IMHO, George H.W. Bush had a sterling resume, but to me it mostly meant that he couldn’t keep a steady job. He is the eptiome from the right of the guy who has all the correct tickets punched but doesn’t actually have “the vision thing,” as he himself once put it, necessary to lead. We’ve all had experience with these kinds of executives. Interestingly, his son George W. Bush actually functioned quite well as an executive. You may not like the decisions he made, but that’s a different problem altogether. The man knew how to set goals, delegate, redirect as necessary, and not make it all about himself, you know, the whole leadership thing. He made some mistakes, but he also went to great lengths to address them as those mistakes became clear, rather than doubling down on them. But I digress.

    Why do you have a knee-jerk response to defend Obama and piss on a Bush no matter what is said?

  5. anjin-san says:

    Why do people label any criticism of the President a “talking point’?

    Possibly because they make posts like the one you just did I.E. utterly lacking in substance. How about providing some intelligent and original insight into the myriad ways that Obama is “failing”? Your festival o’ platitudes is not even a little bit impressive.

  6. anjin-san says:

    his son George W. Bush actually functioned quite well as an executive.

    Weil, I guess you could say he delegated. GW, a man with a long history of laziness, abdicated his responsibilites to Cheney & Rove and let them run the country. Into the ground.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Obama has taken far too long to clean up the corrupt and incompetent oversight and regulatory regime of the Bush administration. I blame Obama for that. For not shoveling out the Republican sh-t quite as fast as he might have.

    But that doesn’t mean brain-dead Republicans have any standing to criticize. One may criticize the doctor who fails to save the gunshot victim, but the shooter really ought to keep his opinions to himself.

  8. JKB says:

    Way to not let a crisis got to waste, although a bit unseemly.

    So suppose we get this “clean” energy future. Still, we will drill and use petroleum. Or are we to give up plastic stents to open arteries, synthetic fabric, bullet resistant vests, lubricants, house wrap, styrene insulation, asphalt shingles, asphalt roads, chip and seal roads, ships, trains, cars, trucks, medicines, ipods, computers, bearings (for windmills), high temperature generator/motor windings, etc.

    Being naive about technology, science and reality is no way to go through life and a very bad way to be president. Even if you just jack up the cost of all those evil petroleum products, you can forget about a future, clean energy or otherwise.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Even if you just jack up the cost of all those evil petroleum products, you can forget about a future, clean energy or otherwise.

    No doubt in an earlier age you would have been warning that there is no future without bronze, or that the Macedonian phalanx would defeat all foes, now and forever. Why the right is so desperate to hold on to the 19th & 20th centuries is beyond me. It must be terrible to be so afraid of change, the one true constant in life…

  10. Herb says:

    What do you do in a lose-lose situation? You lose!

    Big surprise there….

  11. sam says:

    @Charles

    “Why are people so surprised that a man with no executive experience acts like a man with no executive experience.”

    OK, Charles. Then evaluate for us the performance of Carl-Henric Svanberg, the chairman of BP and Tony Hayward the CEO of BP. These men, I gather, have exemplary records as “executives”. How are they doing? Let me anticipate the answer — they’re doing pretty shitty, no? It’s mere class prejudice that asserts that those with “business executive” experience are thereby better prepared to govern than those without. In all the companies I worked for, I ran into only a handful of people I would consider as exhibiting real leadership, in the sense in which I learned that term in the Marine Corps. For the rest, they weren’t qualified to lead a troop of Cub Scouts in the corner drugstore. So spare us the paeans to “Executives”.

  12. john personna says:

    The world is divided between those who understand that this story was essentially written the day the well blew, and those who want to “insert magic” to make it all go away.

    The President isn’t magic enough, lower his score.

    (He certainly isn’t magic enough to make up for the criminal negligence at BP.)

  13. JKB says:

    No doubt in an earlier age you would have been warning that there is no future without bronze, or that the Macedonian phalanx would defeat all foes, now and forever. Why the right is so desperate to hold on to the 19th & 20th centuries is beyond me. It must be terrible to be so afraid of change, the one true constant in life…

    Would you mind translating that from Obamanise to English. Neither bronze nor the Macedonian phalanx were taxed to make “alternatives” more competitive. They were superseded because better, more cost effective means were developed to accomplish the same outcome. The new technology superseded the old by simply existing. No artificial increase in the cost of old technology needed.

    In any case, show me the “alternative” research that will replace the many uses of oil that wind and solar can’t replace even if we make oil $1000/bbl.

  14. sam says:

    Oh, and

    Although most of the Congressional fire was aimed at BP on Tuesday, the other executives came under criticism as well, particularly for the response plans that they prepared for a major spill in the gulf. The five companies submitted virtually identical plans to government regulators and to the committee. The 500-page document, prepared by a private contractor, refers to measures to protect walruses and gives a phone number for a marine biologist who died five years ago.

    James J. Mulva, chief executive of ConocoPhillips, said the citations were “certainly an embarrassment to Conoco,” adding, “Plans need to be updated more frequently.”[a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/business/16oil.html”>Oil Executives Break Ranks in Testimonyblockquote>

    Gee, you’d think that chief executives of major oil companies drilling in an area with the potential for sustaining massive environmental damage would be on top of contingencies plans for disaster, wouldn’t you? Hey, they’re Executives, right?

  15. sam says:

    when we gonna get the html functions back?

  16. EJ says:

    Why is it that more people don’t point out the fact that oil and wind are NOT substitutes. Wind power is a substitute for coal in electricty generation. Oil is uses for trasportation fuel. Until if/when our entire trasportation infrastructure is completely changed, you can build an infinant amount of windmills and it isnt going to do anything to reduce the need for oil. If the enviromentalists are actually interested in carbon reductions, they should be focussing one elctricty generation, not transportation fuel and stop using this disaster as an excuse to destroy economic output.

  17. Tully says:

    The short version of the Obama speech: Jab finger at camera, pound table, demand lotsa money.

    Pure Chicago-style “community activism.”

  18. tfr says:

    Well, he certainly looked more uncomfortable for this one than any other…

  19. anjin-san says:

    They were superseded because better, more cost effective means were developed to accomplish the same outcome. The new technology superseded the old by simply existing

    The phalanx became obsolete when the Romans developed an offensive strategy to defeat (most notably at Battle of Pydna) it, not because someone developed a more “cost effective” way to do the same thing.

    Well, your comments never have indicated much time spent cracking history books. Do you need me to translate this from “Obamanise” to English for you as well?

  20. anjin-san says:

    Let’s summarize this whole thing:

    1. BP cuts corners on safety in quest for better ROI on Deepwater Horizon.

    2. Doing this is simple for them because Bush gutted oversight/regulation.

    3. The very disaster that the environmentalists have been warning about for 40 years while the right jeered at them takes place.

    4. Obama is unable to summon up a heard of magic ponies to ride to the bottom of the gulf and repair the damage.

    5. The right concludes that all of the above are proof that Obama is “an empty suit”. (actually, rush and Beck make this conclusion, and a vast flock of parrots echos them)

  21. Rick Caird says:

    Reading down, anjin-san makes some crazy posts, but ends with the craziest of them all. First, we don;t know that BP cut corners. I am not going to take some newspaper story as engineering fact. We will know soon enough it that is true or not. I assume you are not a drilling engineer, so you have no informed comment to offer,.

    Second, Bush did not gut oversight or regulation. Any changes BP made to their procedures were made with the full authorization of MMS. We could have a long discussion on how regulators are always captured by the regulated, but it would probably surprise you too much.

    Third: No, the irony is the environmentalists kept restricting the areas for drilling because they were afraid of ruined beaches. So, the forced the drilling into areas that stressed the technology and created an even larger problem harming even more beaches and wildlife. It is almost as if the environmentalists were members of a conspiracy. Do you think BP would have this much trouble with a blowout well if it were in ANWAR?

    Obama is unable to summon even ordinary ponies to mitigate the damage to the wetlands and beaches because it has never occurred to him the he does not always need to follow the “process” when time absolutely matters. Obama is nowhere near as bright or the leader you seem to think he is.

    I called Obama an empty suit during the campaign. That was easy to see. He had no experience, no resume, and would hide any results from Columbia and the Annenberg challenge. Obama is mysteery man. It was also clear, if you actually read his speeches that, just like last night, they were content free. You were fooled by delivery. Most of the country has caught on now, but you are still playing the fool.

  22. anjin-san says:

    I am not going to take some newspaper story as engineering fact. We will know soon enough it that is true or not. I assume you are not a drilling engineer, so you have no informed comment to offer,.

    Where to begin? Let’s see Rick, according to you, since I am getting my information from mainstream sources and I am not a drilling engineer, I have “no informed comment to offer”. You then proceed to follow up that little gem with:

    So, the forced the drilling into areas that stressed the technology and created an even larger problem harming even more beaches and wildlife. It is almost as if the environmentalists were members of a conspiracy. Do you think BP would have this much trouble with a blowout well if it were in ANWAR?

    Tell me, are you a drilling engineer? A disaster recovery professional? A failure analysis expert? No? Then HTF do you have any special insight into the issue that I lack? Do you have special inside sources of information not available to the general public? Have you been to ANWAR personally to assess the risks there? No? Then we can only conclude that you are a frigging moron who’s mouth is several steps ahead of your brain.

    Also, were you in the White House and party to the relevant decision making process? No? Then you are probably just repeating things you have picked up from newspapers and blogs. Not much informed comment there, by your own standards – yet you continue to drone on.

    I likewise doubt that you have any actual expertise on lobbying in the marine mineral sector, or any other, or that you are a professor teaching grad students about how the government works.

    Since you have proven that you are, beyond all doubt, a fool, I am not going to loose a lot of sleep about your assertation that I am playing one. A ninth grade debate club member could cut you up without too much effort…

  23. anjin-san, with all due respect, anyone with any engineering training can pretty easily determine that fixing a problem, any problem, at ANWR is going to be several orders of magnitude easier under the worst conditions ANWR has to offer than 5.000 feet below the surface of the ocean. It’s not rocket science to figure out that the latter really is pretty close to rocket science, which is damn hard.

    Also, so how is Elizabeth Birnbaum’s appointment to lead MMS so different than, oh, I don’t know, Michael Brown’s appointment to lead FEMA?

  24. anjin-san says:

    easier under the worst conditions ANWR has to offer than 5.000 feet below the surface of the ocean.

    And your point is? Do you really think that if ANWR was wide open that oil companies would not pursue oil in deep water were there money to be made doing so? Anyone with any business training can pretty much determine that they will go after the oil where it is profitable to do so, regardless of difficulty.

    At any rate, it is Rick that made the claim that since I am not a professional drilling engineer I have nothing to say on the subject. All I did was take his “logic” and stuff it down his throat. Actually, some of my work does require a bit of engineering, so I understand the consequences of ignoring best practices, cutting corners in the pursuit of increased ROI, and under-engineering when you should doing to opposite.

    As for Birnbaum v. Brown, I would have to do some research to make an informed comment. I will say that the difference between Democrats & the GOP in terms of lobbying is that while the Democrats are very comfortably in bed with lobbyists, the GOP is owned lock, stock and barrel by them.

  25. anjin-san says:

    Why are people so surprised that a man with no executive experience acts like a man with no executive experience.”

    Rather odd how the Obama bashers are stuck on the idea that all executives and CEOs are dynamic action heros. Folks who have spent time working with and as executives know that a lot of them are pretty lame. They can often be focuses on blame avoidance, finger pointing, useless pet projects, empire building, nest feathering, and all sorts of activities that are not conducive to the well being of the overall orginazation. Ditto for C-level officers.

    Of course there are just as many who are dynamic, visionary, gutsy, decisive, pro-active, and so on and so on. I am lucky, the guys I work for are like that. But to think that that is the rule simply shows that we have a poster with limited business experience.

  26. Gerry W. says:

    You say. “Interestingly, his son George W. Bush actually functioned quite well as an executive. You may not like the decisions he made, but that’s a different problem altogether. The man knew how to set goals, delegate, redirect as necessary, and not make it all about himself, you know, the whole leadership thing. He made some mistakes, but he also went to great lengths to address them as those mistakes became clear, rather than doubling down on them.”

    Charles,

    I don’t know where you have been under the reign of Bush, but he was a total nut.

    Bush said “stay the course” with our economy as he ran up deficits and debt.
    Bush said “free trade is good” while we lost the jobs.
    Bush said “stay the course” with Iraq, while the war was getting worse with a quagmire and it took the Iraq Study Group and others to fix the problem.
    Bush only answer to running to country was his trickle down. It was an ideology that failed as we have to deal with globalization and the loss of jobs. That trickle down only went to the rich and the middle class loss their jobs.
    And Bush said he “believed in a higher authority” in his decision in going to Iraq. And this was not having enough troops to secure the countries and ignoring the potential quagmire that ensued.
    And finally, Bush had this to say in 2008. “America, has no problems.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keN12U2coK8

    I have never seen the country so mismanaged in my life. Carter may not have known what to do, but to run a country on failed ideology shows how ridiculous the right have become. Of course, to those that have religion, I suppose, everything is just fine.