Rich Galen

There are very few people, on either side of the aisle, who think President Obama did himself any good in his first Oval Office speech last night.

Before we get into what we like to call the "optics" of the speech, let's stipulate that no one wants this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to continue one second longer than necessary; and that includes the President.

Let's also stipulate, as T. Boone Pickens said on Larry King Live last night, if anyone knew how to stop this thing, they'd be in there doing it.

Rush Limbaugh

Then, let's stipulate that no one in U.S. Government - the Congress or the Administration - provided any oversight to the oil companies as they set about drilling deeper and deeper wells, with less and less technology or engineering data to support it.

Every time you hear someone demanding more regulation for the oil companies (or, for that matter, the major financial firms, or any other industry segment), ask them how well the government has been doing enforcing the regulations they have in hand.

Not very well.

If the employees if the Minerals Management Service; and the Securities and Exchange Commission were as adept at examining drilling plans and 10-K reports as they appear to be locating porn on the Internet we might have had neither the Bernie Madoff nor the BP oil disasters.

The fact is, no one has a clue about what is going on with the Deep Horizon well. In the beginning BP thought the leak was about 5,000 barrels per day (a barrel equals 42 gallons). The latest estimates are closer to 60,000 barrels per day.

According to the NY Times

"That is roughly 2.5 million gallons of oil a day, and it means an amount equal to the Exxon Valdez spill could be gushing from the well about every four days."

The Congress hauled the heads of the major oil companies up to Capitol Hill yesterday and to the surprise of no one, nothing was learned.

Back to the speech.

One of the AP's most senior writers, Tom Raum, wrote that Obama's pledge to leave the Gulf in better shape than before the spill "eerily echoes President George W. Bush's pledge after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild New Orleans 'higher and better.'"

Again, that dreaded comparison to Katrina.

Raum described Obama hustling back from an overnight trip to the region to make the speech from the Oval Office as:

"A piece of presidential stagecraft designed to emphasize the seriousness of the situation."

More optics: The President is not comfortable speaking from a sitting position behind his desk. In an effort to look more engaged, he used his hands to the point they became a distraction. It would have been better to have rented a roomful of people, put them in the East Room, and have the President speak from a standing position behind a podium - a situation in which he is very comfortable and can be very effective.

Chatting with a group of senior Washington hands - Rs and Ds - last night just after the speech, someone pointed out that if Ronald Reagan were giving this speech and Mike Deaver were running the event, the speech would have been delivered from Plaquemine Parish with Billy Nungesser and a group of fishermen and shrimpers standing around him.

There was no soaring "call to action" in the speech. I said to that group, that's what happens when you have 36 hours to get it written, rather than weeks to work on a State of the Union Address.

I didn't say, but will now, it is also what happens when you don't have Peggy Noonan as your head speechwriter. Remember Reagan's "Touch the Hand of God" speech after the Challenger disaster?

The yawns generated by the President's speech are not only coming from the right. Here's how Kevin Drum, blogging for the über-liberal "Mother Jones" website put it:

"What a terrible speech … This gives pabulum a bad name … The whole point of a prime time Oval Office speech is that it announces something big. On that score, Obama failed right from the start."

And, like that.

The White House wanted to use this speech to have the American people view the President's handling of the Gulf oil spill in a new light.

If there was any light at all, it was very, very dim.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.