Obama, the first modern president to pass his first full year in office without addressing the country from his historic desk, had the setting right. Just back from a day-and-a-half on the gulf coast listening, reassuring, talking tourism, eating seafood. He wore the proper suit, had the requisite flags and family photos in the background.
For 18 minutes he delivered the words crisply and forthrightly, though too often distracting anxious viewers with his fidgeting hands like the lecturing professor he once was. Or wait! Was Mr. Cool nervous?
Obama had the firmness down OK: Make no mistake etc. We will hold BP accountable etc. He....
...had the God references. The talk of real live shrimpers devastated. An American way of life threatened. And though he likened the spill more to an epidemic, he also brought in the requisite battle metaphors. And, in case anyone hasn't heard by now, Obama noted has another Nobel Prize winner in his cabinet, Stephen Chu, who hasn't been able to stop the oil leak either.
But there was something wrong. The first two-thirds of the president's remarks read just fine (Full text over here on The Ticket as usual). By golly, we’ll get the money, we’ll clean it up, no matter how long it takes.
But watching the president and hearing him was a little creepy; that early portion of the address was robotic, lacked real energy, enthusiasm. And worst of all specifics. He was virtually detail-less.
After almost two months of waiting through continuously contradictory reports, an anxious American public wanted to know, HOW are you going to accomplish all this?
Even Obama's cheerleaders over at MSNBC were complaining. "Where was the How in this speech?" demanded Keith Olbermann. Seriously.
Everyone's assumed that fixing the leak was a given since Day Four, which was still five days before the Democrat got his big plane and presidential entourage down there.
Local gulf coast officials are tearing out their hair trying to comprehend and comply with seventeen (as in seven more than 10) federal agencies falling all over themselves to do The Boss’ bidding and help and impose and superimpose their visions and regulations on what is a war zone with hundreds of ships and some 30,000 people involved, many of them frightened. And all of them inexperienced on a disaster of this scale.
Trust me, the president said, tomorrow I'm going to give those BP execs what-for. As CBS' Mark Knoller noted on his Twitter account, the president has allotted exactly 20 whole minutes this morning -- 1,200 fleeting seconds -- to his first-ever conversation with the corporation responsible for the disaster.
Then, he's got an important lunch with Joe "I Witnessed the World Cup's First Tie" Biden.
Well, just-believe-in-my-change-to-believe-in may have been good enough to win Obama's party primaries and the general election in 2008 and drag along into office enormous congressional majorities of fellow party travelers.
But after yelling "JOBS!" for a year and getting a protracted Democratic intra-party fight over Obama's beloved healthcare instead, Americans wanted some Oval Office specifics Tuesday evening on stopping the uncontrolled undersea oil escape.
Instead, Obama was like a Harvard-trained nurse talking vacation to a new patient bleeding all over the ER floor. Hello, could we please stop the blood flow here before we discuss the long-term recovery?
Obama’s delivery did not really come alive until the end when the ex-community organizer got into his favorite Big Picture stuff. Memo to American Homeowners: Do not call Obama over to fix your leaking roof – or pipe. Have him design a new house, no, better yet an entire neighborhood or city from scratch.
Following the advice of his chief of staff, Rahm "I Got a Rent-Free Apartment from a BP Adviser" Emanuel, Obama is determined to leave no crisis unused. When he got into the decades-long fossil fuel addiction rehab stuff, his eyes shone. His delivery punched up.
Now, that is an issue that requires greatness. Another galactic reform out of Hyde Park. It sounds swell unless mega-trillion-dollar federal deficits are on your mind, which voter polls now show ranks with terrorism as Americans' top fears.
Obama’s historic presidential campaign was not only big in terms of an unprecedented three-quarters of a billion dollars to win. It was about Big Promises. He was going to change America, radically reform the entire education system, healthcare, comb the entire federal budget line-by-line, oh, and change the 200-year-old partisan ways of the capitol. About the only big change the White Sox fan didn't promise was getting the Cubs a World Series ring.
It was all impractical, of course. But the country wanted to believe....
....in his change to believe in. And it did, handing complete control of the federal government over to Obama and his Democratic party. And today, after 17 months of lop-sided Democratic majorities now nervously confronting midterm elections Nov. 2, about 60% of Americans would like the new healthcare bill repealed. And they're hinting they'd probably like some more Republicans in Congress too.
President Obama has said he doesn’t sense an appetite to address something as large as the illegal immigrant issue this year. But suddenly – watch the left hand over here because he wants you to not focus on how long it’s taken him to take charge of the spill – he thinks there’s a compelling need to spend a motorcade full of moola that the federal government doesn’t have in order to change the country’s energy habits.
And we've gotta start that right now because of an underwater leaking pipe 40 miles off Louisiana that we haven't plugged and don't really understand how it broke in the first place. So let's do the electric car thing and build more windmills now.
And if, by chance, the nation’s politicians end up fighting over an energy plan during the next five months until the voting, maybe the politically damaging healthcare regrets and hidden costs will drown in all the words like so many thousands of seabirds in all the gulf’s still-surging oil.
-- Andrew Malcolm