The President has been very critical of “talking heads” in the media and tonight he had the opportunity to say his piece in his first Oval Office speech. Sadly, the President sounded more like an analyst and candidate for office than a decisive leader. The presidential address to the nation lacked specifics and was full of promised future action.
The President started by explaining that he assembled a team of experts soon after the crisis:
Because there has never been a leak of this size, at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nations’ best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge.
Then the President said that “as a result of these efforts, we’ve directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology and in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90% of the oil leaking out of the well.” Members of Congress and the American people might have raised an eyebrow at the lack of past results coupled with a bold promise to capture 90% of leaked oil soon. Again, the American people are promised future results, but not shown measurable results in the 56 days since the spill.
The President said that “because of our efforts millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water.” That is the type of concrete example that the American people and Congress expect from the President. Members of Congress also should be happy that the President promised aid in cleaning up the Gulf. “As the cleanup continues, we will offer whatever resources and assistance our coastal states will need.” Again, this is a promise that may never happen, yet it should be reassuring that the President is finally committed to offer all resources necessary to clean up the spill.
The President discussed his plan on “the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast.” The President announced that he is finally meeting with BP to discuss a recovery and restoration plan. “Tomorrow I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of this companies recklessness.” This is consistent with BP’s promise to pay for all the cleanup and collateral damage.
The President discussed a third element of his response plan described as “the steps we are taking to insure that a disaster like this does not happen again.” The President started by making excuses for his actions in approving drilling in the Gulf:
A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe. That the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken. That obviously was not the case.
Instead of the President saying that he made a mistake, he blamed some unnamed party in giving him “assurances” that were not true. We are not informed of the source of these assurances. Again, Congress will look at a President who refuses to take any responsibility for his decisions and shifts blame to others. The President’s solution to this problem is the setting up of a “national commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place.”
A commission may be a good idea, yet to issue a “six month moratorium on offshore drilling” so as to wait for a Commission of bureaucrats to make a decision for the President is not a good idea. Shifting decision making to a commission is not leadership. The President may have a pre-text to halt all new drilling for a long time when he declares that “we need to know the facts before we allow deep water drilling to continue.” This fact finding commission may take a long long time and the President did not set any specific time frame for the Administration to reassess his banning of all new drilling in the Gulf. To all the Gulf Coast Members of Congress with constituents hurting from losing jobs as a result of the President’s ban on drilling, this declaration by the President will cause them anger.
In the most jaw dropping part of the speech, the President declared:
One place we have already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits known as the Mineral Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility. A philosophy that says that corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight.
The President appointed the Secretary of the Interior. The President declared a ceasing of drilling in the Gulf. Yet the President claimed that his Secretary of the Interior failed at cleaning up “the worst of the corruption at this agency.” Those are strong words and if corruption is alleged, where is the President’s commission to investigate illegal activities at the Mineral Management Service (MMS)? Yet again, the President seems not to want to take any responsibility for his personal failings in cleaning up corruption in his own administration. He also implicitly adopted the left wing talking point that this crisis is partially President Bush’s fault because President Obama inherited a MMS that viewed “regulation with hostility.” The President did promise action that all can agree is a good idea by announcing “new leadership at the agency.”
The President ended his call to action with some rhetoric in support of the House passed Global Warming bill. Obama declared that “now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.” This is reminiscent of the soaring rhetoric of the Obama campaign that launched Senator Obama into the Oval Office. The President called for a “transition to clean energy (that) has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs but only if we accelerate this transition. Only if we seize the moment. Only if we rally together and act as one nation.” The President admitted costs to the economy with the transition, yet claimed that this transition will magically get America out of recession and lead us away from our reliance on foreign oil.
The President said that he is “happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party,” yet made no commitment to any of the ideas he floated. The President said that “some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings,” “some believe that we should set standards to insure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power” and others advocate that the federal government “rapidly boost our research and development” spending on alternative energy sources.
The President dispassionately said that “all of these approaches have merit and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead.” This evidences one of the troublesome habits of President Obama to vet ideas without advocating for these ideas. If you were looking for evidence of the President’s strong leadership in advocating for any of these ideas, as bad for the economy as they may be, the President put them out there with non judgmental language. This should trouble the advocates of these liberal big government ideas, because the President does not seem committed to pushing these ideas that seem to come right out of the talking points of the Obama campaign for President.
Americans and Members of Congress hoping for specifics and a President willing to accept responsibility for failings in responding to the crisis in the Gulf were disappointed. Those who wanted a political speech filled with new promises of commissions, blame for the prior Administration, new legislation and new staff in the Department of the Interior can take some solace in his promises. The bench mark of his speech is the specific promise that 90% of the spilled oil will be captured “in the coming weeks and days.” This will be a good test of the veracity the President’s other claims in his speech. Conservatives hope that this speech did not serve merely to exploit the crisis in the Gulf to pass job killing Global Warming legislation.