President Obama's first address from the Oval Office can be summed up with a song lyric from the 1951 Broadway musical, "Paint Your Wagon":
"Where am I goin'? I don't know.
When will I get there? I ain't certain.
All that I know is I am on my way."
Trying to gain momentum he might have had in the initial days following the BP oil disaster, the president took aim at several targets. He is unlikely to hit any of them, with the possible exception of BP, which could conceivably be forced out of business if retribution becomes the goal. Liberals love to beat up on big business, but beating up BP to the point of bankruptcy will not only cost U.S. jobs, but also threaten thousands of pensioners in Britain.
After pledging massive efforts to help clean up the continuing mess while acknowledging damage will continue for a long time, the president turned to his real agenda, which is known as cap and trade, or to conservatives, "cap and tax." He erroneously said, "We are running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water." No we're not. We are running out of places environmentalists will allow us to drill. There's plenty of oil (and gas) to be found under the earth, but the far-left greenies in pursuit of their cowardly new world will have none of it.
The president tried to coin a phrase, saying we need a "national mission" that will lead America to the promised land of energy independence. Every president since Jimmy Carter has said the same thing. At least President Obama didn't give his speech in a cardigan sweater. More about Obama's style in a moment.
The president said he has issued a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling until an investigation is completed into the cause of the BP accident. But we already know the cause from internal BP emails. Safety was compromised in exchange for speed and profit. The accident was an aberration. It appears most offshore oil platforms function safely and efficiently. Allowing for the construction of new ones closer to shore with proper oversight is an important step the president should take. Allowing existing oil rigs to continue pumping will preserve jobs.
Nuclear power is the future. This president is correct when he says we can't rely on oil forever. But the way to lead us away from our dependence on foreign oil is not by using the BP disaster to pass his fantasyland cap-and-tax legislation. Instead, he should use the threat of more terrorism as a motivator. But this administration won't label the terrorists for who they are, so don't look for any courage along those lines. A patriotic push, not just punitive punishment, is what's needed, but you've got to show love for America to rally patriots and this president is no George Washington.
The president seems to want a replay of his big government health care bill by using this "crisis" to push "cap and tax" legislation. He promised to listen to Republicans, but that's what he said about the congressional health care bill. In the end, he didn't much. We are living on borrowed money and if it keeps up we will also be living on borrowed time. Replacing dependence on oil with greater dependence on our Chinese debt-holders exchanges one addiction for another.
Now to style. The opening TV shot made the president look small. He was seated too low behind his desk and could have used a booster seat. Rather than fill the Oval Office with his presence, the scene appeared to dominate him. Everything around the president seemed larger than him: desk, flags, window, even his suit.
His gestures resembled a local TV news anchor. Gestures are better used when a speaker is standing. When one is seated, they become a distraction. And his voice never seemed to change. There was no cadence, no variation of tone, no pausing for emphasis.
The president doesn't know where he's going, but he assures us we'll get there. It sounds like a joy ride, but without the joy.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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