Fifty-seven days. For nearly two months Americans have watched the nation’s largest environmental disaster unfold in the Gulf of Mexico. It may not be at the forefront of every American’s mind as we head into the busy summer months, with the preoccupation of keeping children amused and planning vacations. But the images of helpless wildlife entombed in tarry crude, the heartbreaking stories of countless livelihoods lost, and the irritating nattering of incompetent politicians finally took their toll.
The President realized he could not allow the out-of-control oil spill and its ensuing public relations disaster to continue to drag down the public’s confidence in his leadership. And so he decided to use one of the president’s most powerful tools: an address to the nation.
Although it has lost much of its influence (and audience) over the decades, there is still a sense of importance amongst viewers when a president interrupts the normal course of America’s mundane activities to address the nation. Just over 32 million Americans tuned in for President Obama’s 18-minute address on Tuesday evening. Finally, the country’s leader would provide some clarity and direction in the midst of the quagmire.
Instead, Americans heard a lecture about their gluttonous consumption of energy and an embarrassing attempt to shift blame from a floundering administration.
The President began his remarks by likening the oil spill to a battle, with the oil “assaulting our shores and our citizens.” It seemed an odd analogy to use when the nation is fighting a real war against terrorists—terrorists who have increased their attacks on America in the last two years. For an administration that bends over backwards to accommodate the “rights” of terrorist suspects, likening an environmental “siege” to war plants further questions in the minds of citizens about how seriously the war against terrorism is regarded by this president.
Notably missing in the President’s remarks about his administration’s response to the spill was any concrete solution to fixing the leaking oil well. Apparently the President moved from the action-oriented “plug the damn hole” to passively seeking “ideas and advice” from “scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies.” There was no explanation as to why, two months on, American ingenuity has failed to stop the oil flow. Perhaps it was because true American ingenuity has been stymied by bureaucratic, arcane policies and laws. A simple search of YouTube videos shows some rather interesting ideas for fixing the problem and cleaning up its mess.
The address quickly turned from glossing over the administration’s mishandling to a beat down of BP. It’s true that BP should be held accountable for damages resulting from their oil spill. But when the President asserted, “We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused,” it sounded like a promise based in vengeance rather than justice. President Obama’s vilification of BP is an attempt at deflection from his own mistakes; his frustration will be absolved in their humiliation.
At a time of national crisis, Americans look to their president to provide assurance and direction. The last thing they expect to hear is a politically-motivated address that chides them for using natural resources to achieve prosperity. But on Tuesday evening, America walked into an intervention, lead by its Commander-in-Chief, for its “addiction to fossil fuels.” It was as though the Oval Office was the setting for an episode of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab.
As if labeling America an addict wasn’t bad enough, the President then held up Communist China as a model for developing a green economy. Never mind the fact China actually leads the world in carbon dioxide emissions and is the second highest consumer of oil. Has a President ever so blatantly compared America to a repressive Communist government, with America considered the inferior nation?
The last quarter of the address was spent selling America on the next item on the President’s policy agenda: increased environmental regulations. Instead of providing real direction and leadership, President Obama traded the power and mystique of the presidency for political gain. He placed his agenda ahead of the best interests of the nation. How shocking for a president to use his bully pulpit to admonish instead of inspire.
Even the Reaganesque language affixed to the end of the address couldn’t mask the lack of substantive guidance. Ronald Reagan understood that while America is not a perfect nation, it is a good nation. Labeling America an “addict” to its own natural resources is a concept foreign to any great American leader.
Leadership means walking a fine line between inspiring dreams and creating tangible results. While Barack Obama is gifted in selling false hope with flowery oratory, his language can also demean. This address to the nation was not the time to sell a radical policy agenda. It was the time to provide assurance and clear direction—both of which America still has not received from this administration.