Obama's war footing

President Barack Obama says Americans will continue to fight the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for 'as long as it takes,' but he vows that BP will pay for the damage it's caused. (June 15)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; 9:01 AM

What was striking at first was the familiar, flag-bedecked Oval Office backdrop, the scene of past presidential addresses on Vietnam, on 9/11, on Iraq.

What was equally striking was that Barack Obama seemed to be on a war footing. He spoke of a "battle plan," of a "mobilization," a "siege," of a menace "assaulting our shores." He spoke of a "national mission." He spoke of building planes and tanks during World War II. He said that "we will fight this" with "everything we've got for as long as it takes." Defeat was not an option: "We cannot consign our children to this future."

But the president was, of course, talking about plugging an oil leak, not firing weapons and dropping bombs.

On the plus side, the president seemed focused and engaged, not like a lawyer analyzing a case. He communicated determination and empathy, able to cite his meetings with shrimpers and fishermen and family members of the victims. He tapped a deep rhetorical well of American optimism, a JFK-moon landing spirit, as he vowed not only to clean up this disaster and make BP pay, but to lead the country toward energy independence.

On the negative side, with what plan are you leading us toward that elusive goal, Mr. President? The cap and trade bill that is going nowhere in the Senate? He didn't say. The words were uplifting, but at times sounded like wishful thinking.

Obama took a shot at the Republicans and what he called a "failed philosophy" that "says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves." But he did not own up to failing to change that approach in a year and a half in office, other than slipping in a phrase that the pace of reform had been "too slow."

Oh, and on what basis did he declare that 90 percent of the oil will be cleaned up in a few weeks?

One point seems clear: Had Obama given this address three weeks ago, he would have been seen as getting out in front of a burgeoning problem. Now he looked like he was playing catchup.

On Fox, Bill O'Reilly's first guest was Sarah Palin, who said that unless the president acknowledged that we still need oil, "we will be brought to our knees and bowing to the Saudis and places like Venezuela."

But it wasn't just the conservatives. Here was the reaction on MSNBC:

Keith Olbermann: "What did you think of the speech?"

Rachel Maddow: "Sigh."

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