I guess I am not feeling the same visceral stuff that Maureen is tapping into, but I did not watch the president's Oval Office speech last night. I did not feel the need to be reassured that the feds and BP are doing all they can to stanch this open wound and deal with the awful, ongoing clean-up and consequences. And I did not expect a detail-specific rallying cry for climate change legislation, however much I would have liked to hear it. You don't issue a rallying cry of that kind from behind the Oval Desk, when grappling with a much more immediate and difficult crisis-management problem. You do not lay out legislation you know cannot be passed right now. I have read the speech and watched it online. It's hard to differ from Jim Fallows' assessment:
Will we look on this speech as signaling the moment when the United States stopped talking about the distortions of its oil-based economy, and did something about it? No.
And that's the only thing worth noting. The rest is cable news-cycle blather.
The speech did, however, seem to me to achieve what it was supposed to: signal strong presidential engagement with this now seemingly permanent blight on the world and our consciousness. For those who need their hand held as we wait for the relief wells that have always been the only real solution, I guess this is important. But it missed an opportunity to explain who exactly is in charge now, as Clive notes:
One important accusation does seem fair, and might be starting to stick: there is no clear chain of command. Who is in charge of operations? Whose responsibility is it to co-ordinate the efforts of the multiple agencies and levels of government--to organise offers of help from abroad, and to put resources where they can best be used? I had innocently supposed that after two months such a structure must exist, but maybe not. If there is a chain of command, Obama could have done himself a lot of good tonight by explaining it.
He looked nervous too, don't you think? It was an unconfident performance. He moved his hands too much. He did not look strong. It was a bad night for his presidency, and he would have been wise to give no speech rather than this speech.
I wouldn't go that far. The real import of this moment will be how the president builds on even Bush's grasp of America's oil-addiction problem and does something in response commensurate to the broader crisis once this incident is resolved. That broader crisis is America's continued addiction to a substance that empowers our enemies and cooks the planet. One thing at a time. I see this speech as laying down a marker not initiating a new crusade, however necessary that may be.
So far: two steps backward for every one forward. But it's worth remembering that almost every step backward on innovating post-carbon energy comes from the GOP. Obama and the Dems would have passed a serious climate bill by now if it weren't for total Republican obstructionism (with the fitful exception of Butters). Obama is not the real obstacle here: the American people are, however manipulated by short-term political maneuvering by Republicans. And he does not have the political capital at this point in time to twist their arms. He has already pushed so many as far as they can go - on the issues of the economy and health insurance.
I'm hoping one day he will be able to push again. Maybe with a more Republican Congress from next year on, he has more of a chance. Because they will be forced to say what they're for, rather than always pivoting from day to day based on what they're against.