Will Obama's Actions Match His Words?

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In his 18-minute Oval Office address, Obama emphasizes his "battle plan" to restore the Gulf Coast and prevent "catastrophe" from ever happening again ... Announces moratorium on new oil drilling until review commission finishes its work ... Previews tomorrow's meeting with BP ... Says that Navy Sec. Ray Mabus will lead long-term recovery efforts ...  Does not mention carbon pricing or "cap and trade" ... Refers favorably to the House's Waxman-Markey bill, implies Senate should pass something similar. Says that "transition costs" away from an oil economy are there but "we can't afford not to change how we use and produce energy" ... Says he's open to ideas from "both parties"  as long as "they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels." 

Analysis: A White House official says the goal of the speech is simple: to convince people that Obama gets it, and that he's doing everything in his power to fix it. On
the small-medium-big scale, Obama went medium. Leaving out an explicit call for cap-and-trade was a deliberate choice, obviously. But Obama wants action on climate change, and the only way to wean our dependence off fossil fuels is to put a price on carbon. He did not make that explicit, as he has done before, to smaller audiences. He did not call upon Congress to make the political sacrifices necessary, and it may be difficult to reconcile his words, laced with an urgent tone, with the actions he is willing to put his weight behind. Whether he's taken command of the response is immaterial now; it is now his spill to fix. Obama ran for office on the promise of restoring Americans' faith in their government's ability to solve modern problems. The economy aside, this is the biggest test of whether he can bend the curve of history in that direction. It may be too much to ask a president, even a president with near-imperial powers, to contain something that is uncontainable, but Obama has taken responsibility for doing so, and his follow-through will be vital.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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