President Obama's Oval Office address
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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."
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."
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