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Measured in Gallons

June 16, 2010

The French Cowboy only read the transcript of Obama’s Oval Office speech on the oil spill and didn’t see how he delivered it. Maybe this is why I don’t see how this speech is any worse than pretty much all of his other speeches, even though this is what reactions to it seem to be saying both on the right and on the left. One thing is clear, though: if even the Left is not soothed by an Obama speech then things can’t get much worse for the president. And this is what seems to be the case.

Again, the French Cowboy thinks that the address was just like your typical Obama speech: it included ridiculous historic comparisons (the oil spill = WWII); plenty of finger pointing (inefficient oversight? bushdidit); appeals to unite behind a vaguely defined cause as if he was talking about facing the Nazis (“Only if we seize the moment.  And only if we rally together and act as one nation…”); there was the usual fighting of straw men (apparently, certain powerful people want the oil companies to do evil) and there was nothing specific.

Since this verbal product is the kind that helped Obama to get into office and to keep high approval ratings for a while, it’s interesting to note that the give-a-speech-and-you’ll-be-fine tactic doesn’t seem to be successful anymore. It almost appears as if Americans actually want their president to be competent in more than political campaigning.

Obama’s always been a talker, it seems to be the only talent he’s developed. And his policies have always been disconnected from the American mainstream. He has grand visions about America’s future that come from having little relevant life experience, little knowledge of history, and lots of wrong ideas about how injustices are created. Add to that an ego too large to admit mistakes and you just don’t end up with a person who’s good at solving practical problems.

The oil spill seems to be the first challenge in Obama’s tenure that makes these shortcomings obvious to everyone. Nobody really understands the financial crisis and success of policies is hard to assess, in part because bad data can easily be spinned. The wars are far away and the majority of Americans is not paying close attention to them anymore. Progress in dealing with individual terrorists is not easily measured in the short term. But the oil that is gushing into the golf as it kills animals and businesses is something that everyone can observe. And everyone sees that Obama has at least part in the responsibility to manage this catastrophe and to put an end to it. A vacuous speech is not helping.

During the campaign for the presidency, there was a lot of talk about candidates’ experience or lack thereof. (And you might recall that the Dems’ candidate for president’s full résumé was constantly compared to the older half of the résumé of the GOP’s VP candidate to show how the Dem was more experienced than half of the GOP’s second-of-the-ticket.) It was said that, for the president, there won’t be time for learning on the job. Ironically, a president who learns on the job — and quickly — is our last best hope at the moment.

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