Someone in the White House has finally convinced Barack Obama to do a primetime address about the oil spill. He'll be in the Oval Office. Fancy! But can we expect to hear anything new? Will he "act angrily" enough?
It takes a lot for a presidential address to merit the gravitas of an Oval Office setting — some people have to die, like in the Challenger explosion or the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11, when the president has an immediate imperative to tell everyone to chill out, and that things will work out okay. Usually they come within a week of the incident. Eleven people did die in the BP explosion, but that was 50-some days ago, and the problems have not stopped compounding, nor will they anytime soon.
President Obama must angle his address to the nation on the Gulf oil disaster as more of a "warlike update" than the kind of addresses given by past presidents on national tragedies, a top presidential historian said.
"This is going to be a different kind of president address ... like we're in the middle of the war and he's giving an update on the war on the Gulf," said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. "It's a battlefield report — particularly trying to show that progress is being made, although it's not fast enough for him."
The New York Times made a similar point in its analysis today, about expecting war-talk. We're starting to think that some folks are getting a little too caught up in their need for brutal warfare metaphors and imagery, because this is not actually a war? You know? But hopefully Obama can sate their endless bloodthirst.
As for structure of the speech: it is expected to be around 20 minutes, which is a good thing, because sometimes that guy never shuts up. Anyone watch that whole 80-minute State of the Union this year? Because it really, really felt like 80 minutes.
* the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service, the woefully underperforming federal regulator in charge of supervising offshore drilling;
* plans for containment of the environmental damage;
* when BP will be able to capture most of the oil gushing from the well;
* the escrow account the president wants BP executives to establish for those hurt economically by the spill;
* long-term recovery plans for the Gulf;
* how the spill underlines the need for the US to pursue a "clean energy future."
The last two could be most interesting for news junkies who have been following developments and want to know how the spill will affect Obama's long-term plans for energy and revitalizing the Gulf Coast — the first four, while very important, are mostly of the Battlefield Update variety that Douglas Brinkley and the New York Times crave so dearly.
The White House still hasn't really fleshed out, in the wake of this spill, how it wants to alter its energy proposals going forward (if at all). Will he still want to expand offshore drilling for the foreseeable future, or is the goal now to wind that down in the medium-term, in ways that won't bring shocking economic disruption? Will he maintain his lukewarm support for this handicapped industry-appeasing loser of an energy bill that John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are slow-walking through the Senate in vain, or will he push for a more aggressive approach towards clean energy, like a carbon tax?
If you're lucky, very very lucky, he might consider addressing some of these things. Probably, though, he'll just say "We're going to fix this, sit tight, okay." Which is all you can really do, anyway.
The speech will start at 8:00 ET, so be sure to hit up the liquor store soon.
[Image via AP]