Barack Obama set a challenge for himself tonight. After mishandling the federal government’s response to BP’s negligence, the president’s job tonight was to give the public confidence that he and his administration were taking charge of the debacle, and fully aware of what needed to be done, at a time when the public wanted exactly that.
Yet Obama failed to act like a chief executive tonight, opting instead for a dry sermon about energy policy and prayer. All the while, the speech avoided leadership, a sense of command, and vision. Rather, it seemed simply to serve as an opportunity for Obama to repeat whatever he’s said over the last six weeks, and then move on, just as the White House confirmed privately. Aside from some lame talk about holding BP responsible, he still managed to downplay the current crisis, in a rush to the future without dealing with current accountability.
Just like he treats the Bush administration.
Even as he said the “federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history”, he didn’t say a word about protecting the workers who have been negligently sent out to clean this up without protection, and not a word was said about holding BP accountable for the numerous safety violations it commits daily.
Not a word was said about the public health and safety crisis caused by this spill and BP’s lack of attentiveness to this emerging calamity.
Not a word was said about BP’s efforts to eliminate the daily evidence of this catastrophe washing up on the gulf shores, or BP’s efforts to limit media and government access to the beaches and other areas to independently quantify this damage.
Not a word was said about having the federal government take over access to the containment and cleanup area.
Nor did the president tell the public that the GOP wanted to keep drilling anyway, because to them profits are more important than public safety.
Instead, the president used six paragraphs to talk about hope and prayer, which is not likely to inspire anyone’s confidence that the federal government knows the way forward. His speech seemed weak and reactive; it made the federal government and his administration look impotent, overmatched, and even more faith-based in its modus operandi than the Bush administration ever did.
There was no indication in this speech of executive level control and engagement, nor did the president provide any specifics on how he and we would move forward to a better future in response to this disaster. His overall pitch for an energy policy lacked urgency and passion, much like his cool approach to everything except campaigning.
Presidents don’t get too many opportunities to re-set public perceptions of their competence and ability to lead, unless handed an opportunity from crisis. Barack Obama flubbed just such an opportunity tonight.