Barack Obama made a dull speech on Tuesday evening. And he made a frightened speech — an overly careful assembly of energy cliches likely to be remembered by no one. All this in the face of the greatest ecological catastrophe in American history, the seemingly unending oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
This was a man playing catch-up, aware that the public is apparently even less enamored of him on this issue than they were of George W. Bush on Katrina. It was time for Obama to show he cared. He didn’t do much of a job of that even. Obama is no Clinton. The current president doesn’t do empathy well. He seems like a man who has to be reminded to be empathic, even though in situations like the Gulf it is the most obvious presidential, really human, behavior. Yet it took him weeks to make this flaccid speech.
But let me be clear. There are many things for which I blame Barack Obama. I could make a long list from hugely destructive government over-spending to a foreign policy that Orwell might call “objectively pro-fascist.” But the oil disaster in the Gulf is not one of them. Barack Obama is no more responsible for the unending leak than Bush was for Katrina.
So he is not to blame for this and he really isn’t to blame that its solution has dragged on and on. He wasn’t elected as scientist-in-chief. He knows nothing about petroleum engineering, just as he knows nothing about global warming. We haven’t had a president with the skills of that type since Herbert Hoover — a mining engineer. In fact, Hoover was the only president we ever had with significant background and expertise to actually take a hands-on approach to a catastrophe of this nature.
But Obama is responsible for what we learn from the mega-leak and how we correct the problem for the future. Toward that end, there is one word to characterize his performance thus far: blah. This is not the kind of man you would like with you in a foxhole, for whatever purpose and in whatever war. And he is not a man of any great original mind or creativity. He doesn’t even play one on TV… anymore. That’s over.
When I said his speech was frightened, I meant that the cliches he assembled, or his speech writers assembled, were defensive in nature. He didn’t propose anything specific. He took no risks. The rumored carbon tax was not in evidence, as if he and his advisers knew it would be a non-starter in today’s economic climate.
Also not in evidence was the most serious solution to the problem — nuclear energy. We had the usual palaver about solar and wind, but no reference to the energy source employed so successfully by the French and the Japanese, the one source that could change the situation with some rapidity. Obama probably didn’t want to mention it because his left would be offended. Again, frightened.
Still, he managed to recite that litany of “clean” energy sources, following the by now nauseatingly familiar Rahm Emanuel dictum about never missing a good crisis. No mention, of course, of the studies that indicate wind energy causes more environmental damage than it cures. Or that solar would require we cover half the world with panels in order to generate sufficient electricity to power society. This isn’t about science. It’s about pose.
No mention either of what every one of us, if we are being honest, knows: No oil. No modern life.
On Tuesday evening, Obama didn’t walk the walk. He didn’t even talk the talk.