But short of partisan politics and personal wish-lists on how the president should handle the nation’s energy policy and the oil spill cleanup (I wish Obama had addressed accounts of local officials’ and Coast Guard complicity in aiding BP’s efforts to restrict media access to public beaches, water, and airspace, and then vowed to install a sort of ombudsman to ensure full disclosure and access to the effects of the spill) and other than his demand for a BP-funded escrow account for victims of the spill (which BP agreed this morning to pay $20 billion into), Obama’s speech was thin on the sort of substance that would have answered the age old question, ‘Now what?’
Thankfully, Brian Wingfield at Forbes.com did some close reading between the lines to highlight what Obama didn’t say and what he should have addressed, dissecting the president’s vague vows for a solution, reform, blame, and justice, and then pressing for more detail:
What he said: “The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years. … As the clean up continues, we will offer whatever additional resources and assistance our coastal states may need.” —How long will this take? What types of resources will the Gulf states need? How much is it going to cost? Will BP pay for everything?
Then again, of course the president stuck to the obvious and said what people expected him to say, Wingfield wrote. After all, Oval Office speeches are a bit of theater and they have their limits - they’re highly symbolic, they’re meant to present a galvanized response, they trade in generalities, and rely on stirring public emotion rather than on answering substantive questions.
To be sure, Tuesday night’s address wasn’t the format for Obama to answer these questions. He deliberately chose the Oval Office to make his remarks. The venue conveys the gravity of the situation—presidents typically use the office for solemn addresses. But it also has the added bonus of keeping out reporters, who will pepper the president with questions.
In conclusion: Speeches are nice, but they don’t tell us much. Throw Obama to the press pack of wolves! Or hold a town hall in a Gulf Coast town to address residents’ concerns. Then maybe we’ll finally get some real questions answered.
Watch Obama’s full speech below. Transcript here.