Obama Speech on Oil Spills Falls Short by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below was cross-posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

President Obama said many of the right things on Tuesday in his speech on the Gulf oil spill, but there was no sense of satisfaction, much less elation. There was nothing soaring, not even reassuring. It had the feel of an after-school conference with your guidance counsellor.

As Joan Walsh points out in Salon, the imagery and energy were off. Notwithstanding the battle verbiage, the President was speaking from an airless setting. He couldn’t remove from my mind the pictures of the oil continuing to gush, the wildlife covered with and dying from contaminants, the fishermen out of work, the tourists staying away in droves.

The tutorial reminded us of the steps his administration has taken (the assembling of a team of experts and the deployment of personnel and ships. He laid out broad goals for restoration and recovery, but the closest he came to seemingly authentic emotion was when, referring to the destruction of fishing and tourism, he spoke of “wrenching anxiety” that a way of life would be lost.

Clearly the speech would have been more effective had it been delivered weeks ago. That it came only last night and didn’t add anything new to what has been out in the public domain conveyed the sense that (as Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously said about the war in Iraq) “it’s going to be a long slog.” President Obama’s oil spill battle plan also seems to be little more than a long slog.

It is inevitable that he would be criticized both for government over-reaching and for not doing it boldly enough. People in the direct path of the spill wanted him to be more specific about how their claims will be settled; others wanted him to be more passionate about the need for a comprehensive energy bill, apparently moribund in the U.S. Senate.

The President himself seemed depleted. In the past, he has said he’d rather be a great one-term president than an okay two-term president. The mid-term elections seem implicitly to be a drag on his communication. I still think he can succeed as President. I still want him to succeed. But he can’t do it without passion. He must be able to rally the American people. He has set his course on the oil spill, on dealing with BP, and, to a lesser extent, on comprehensive energy reform. He needs to catch the wind and move the ship of state forward smartly and forcefully, tack to the right and left as necessary, and sail to the finish line.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

6 Responses to Obama Speech on Oil Spills Falls Short by Marjorie Arons-Barron

  1. Joan H says:

    This whole thing seems like too little , too late. Obama is floundering in that sea of oil and sinking fast. There should have been more done sooner. Why were we not prepared for something like this. It would have happened sooner or later anyway. James Carville and Gov. Jindal have spoken out much more aggresively about things that could be done and yet red tape seems to be present everywhere. Obama needs to present a stronger image and actually get something done to appease the victims both human and animal. I admit to being horribly disappointed in his reponse and do not believe he will present as even a decednt one-term president after this. I have family in both Louisiana and Geortgia that voted for him. They are so angry right now and have vowed to vote Republican all the way.

  2. Righty Bulger says:

    He forgot about the third option. Instead of a great one-term President or OK two term President, he’s on his way to a Carteresque terrible one-term Presidency.

    There’s a big difference between campaigning and governing. He is, and always has been more of a follower than a leader.

  3. Andrew says:

    I would think that voting for Republicans would be the best way to ensure more oil spills to be honest.

    The criticism that President Obama is lacking in passion has been repeated endlessly by the media; I think we can all assume by now he and his senior advisors have heard the message. He hasn’t change for a reason, which I would assume is that behaving in the way we all want him to is simply not who he is. For whatever reason, he simply cannot translate the passion of the campaign into passionate leadership. Whenever he tries to show emotion it comes off as forced and false. This is obviously a major liability for him politically, but I don’t really see what he can do about it. He has a fairly long list of successes so far, though I think the unpredictable events like this oil spill tend to define presidencies.

    The President has been criticized for everything. First he was not doing enough. Then it was overreach when he forced BP to establish the escrow account. We’re all frustrated and I think it’s time for us to realize that no matter what he does, we’re going to vent our anger at the President.

    That’s part of what being in charge entails obviously, but I think our anger could be better focused. Returning to the previous comment, the Republicans are, quite frankly, the reason this spill occurred. They’ve been preaching deregulation for decades and this is what deregulation in the MMS means, much as a global recession is the result of deregulation in the SEC and other financial regulatory institutions. It’s no secret that the Republican Party is in the pocket of the oil companies (along with several Democrats who are blocking the current energy bill).

    The MMS failed for the same reason the SEC failed, though I’d add another Republican talking point to the guilty list: smaller government. The MMS has all of 60 employees to regulate 4,000 oil platforms, as well as perform all of the other duties they are responsible for. This is what taxes are for: to have government agencies that are tasked with preventing disasters well-staffed.

    Returning to President Obama, I really don’t see what he can do; there are only two options besides what he’s been doing. The first would be to federalize BP (which we can be sure the Republicans would oppose for all they’re worth). This would accomplish basically nothing except to stop BP from lying every time it makes a public statement and would probably saddle the American taxpayer with added deficits to pay off. I for one am perfectly happy with making the multinational corporation with 100 times more safety violations than the next worst oil company pay for this itself.

    The other option, which was touched on in the post, would be to come out for the climate change bill drafted by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham. Which the President has done (though not as enthusiastically as I’d like). There’s no way this bill is going to pass the Senate; too many Democrats have been bought off by the oil industry.

    The President should have used this spill to make a stronger move on green energy; he didn’t give the speech that President Nixon didn’t give during the Oil Embargo in 1973. Of course, then the story would be that he was exploiting the tragedy.

    As long as we allow politicians to deregulate, these accidents will happen. As long as we allow politicians to underfund the institutions that are not the Defense Department that are supposed to protect us, these accidents will happen. And as long as we insist on burning dirty fossil fuels that are destroying both our health and our environment, these accidents will happen.

  4. Brian Flaherty says:

    Andrew wrote: I would think that voting for Republicans would be the best way to ensure more oil spills to be honest

    Remind me how many took place under George W. Bush?

  5. Robby says:

    20 oil spills under George W? How many of them were as bad as this tragedy? 0! This is Obama’s Katrina, whether its fair or unfair. It is certainly not Obama’s FAULT, nobody I know of is saying it is. But the response has been an absolute nightmare, little-to-none. All I have been hearing from liberals is how this is an example of why we need a alternative energy source. We need to focus on the issue at hand here, a tragedy, and not use it for some political gain, which is exactly what liberals in this country are trying to do.

    The “blame Bush” strategy isn’t working anymore- in reality it hasn’t been working since Obama became President. This is just another example of how people have been overwhelmingly dissapointed with our President. This President has been held to such a high standard coming in; 2 wars spiraling, the economy in the dumps, the people being sick of failures from both parties. Obama was supposed to be the man to bring all of us together, and that hasen’t worked.

    If the election was tomorrow, Obama loses reelection badly.