Pundits Slam Obama's Oval Office Speech

Disappointment in the lack of details and ideas

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President Obama's Oval Office address on Tuesday night was set up to demonstrate presidential control over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to confront the U.S. dependency on oil, and perhaps even to push energy reform legislation. It remains to be seen whether Obama can convince the American public, sell Congress on legislation, or actually fix the spill. But his speech seems to have failed in efforts to win over the chattering classes, which nearly uniformly derided the speech's lack of specifics and its failure to call for strong action.


  • MSNBC Hosts Not Impressed  Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann reacted poorly. Olbermann said, "It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days. ... Nothing specific at all was said." Matthews said of Obama's reliance on experts, "This meritocracy has gone too far." Video here, highlights here.
  • No Action on Climate, Energy Reforms  Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard fumes, "Guidance from the White House is what moved health care reform and financial re-regulation, but Obama still hasn't asserted himself on climate and energy in the same way. Tonight was that opportunity. He didn't take it." For example, "There wasn't even a clear call for a carbon cap, which I fear all but dooms its chances this year." The Washington Post's Ezra Klein agrees, "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."
  • Ambition Evident, But Few Ideas  The Washington Post's Michael Gerson writes, "The main impression left by President Obama’s address on the oil spill is the chasm between the ambition of its commitments and the thinness of its policies. ... The setting of the Oval Office creates an expectation of decisive executive action. ... But someone at the White House is responsible for putting Obama in a dramatic setting with little worth saying." The Atlantic's Josh Green agrees, "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."
  • Politically Misguided  Few think the speech will gather Obama or congressional Democrats much electoral support for action. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes, "The question is whether that frame -- act now, or else -- is the right one in an electoral climate where members of the president's own party are already nervous about what awaits them in November." The New Republic's Jonathan Chait sighs, "The public does not understand scientific evidence about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions. So instead Obama is forced to construct an argument for reducing those emissions that bears little relation to the actual merits."
  • Even White House Acknowledges Poor Reception  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notes, "DNC focus grouped Obams's speech; independent white men in Ohio. ... Sign of rough response to speech: DNC usually stays mum about focus groups. Tonight they're distributing the findings. ... This suggests that the WH is aware of the relatively poor reviews of the speech."
  • OK, But Do Speeches Even Matter?  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias pushes back. "All evidence is that Presidential speeches have zero impact on public opinion or policy outcomes. ... A good speech wouldn't have hurt, but I promise you there's no precedent for speeches making a difference in terms of senate votes. ... it's worth remembering that a better speech wouldn't actually help anything."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.