Obama Goes Small

Quick impression: the president went a good way toward reasserting that he is in charge and BP is trouble. The no-nonsense tone, martial imagery ("battle plan"), the three-part plan, the identification of a bad guy (BP's CEO) who is going to be dealt with sternly, who was scolded for "recklessness," and whose company will be paying for the cleanup and damage--not asked, but told to pay, evidently--all of this was good theatrics, and moderately reassuring. But the address struck me as notably defensive in places, such as when  the president tried to explain away why he so confidently, and rather arrogantly, proposed to expand offshore drilling while waving away concerns just three weeks before the explosion. Obama said he was "under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe," which seems like buck-passing to whatever experts were whispering in his ear. I'm all in favor of the moratorium on drilling, a national commission to understand the causes of this disaster, and the idea that we need to move toward developing sources of clean energy. But I thought Obama reached for some pretty cheap platitudes on the latter point. "Seizing the moment," invoking World War II vets and the moon landing are all well and good, but it rang pretty hollow to me. What stood out was that for all his praise of the House climate bill and talk about the "consequences of inaction" and so forth, not once did he utter the phrase, "It's time to put a price on carbon." And that suggests to me that this speech was primarily about containing the damage to his administration, and was not the pivot point in the energy debate that many people were hoping for.

UPDATE: Ed Markey is on MSNBC sort of pretending that Obama didn't wimp out on climate change, while plainly conveying that, in fact, he did.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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