Is Obama Serious?

The reviews are streaming in now of President Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation last night about BP and the catastrophic oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico – including those originating over here on the Atlantic’s East side, even though only extreme Obama-junkies or else paid political reporters stayed awake into early Wednesday morning to actually watch it live.

It was apparently a rather long speech, with a panoply of various points within it that one can choose among to emphasize – also, if desired, the sheer fact that it was delivered from the Oval Office, something that is generally supposed to denote an especially serious occasion, as Viktoria Unterreiner points out writing for the German paper Die Welt. Still, the title of her piece is “Obama declares the end of ‘cheap oil’,” and that is one aspect of the President’s address that certainly has attracted particular attention over here. Namely: Can America – the land of the Chevy Corvette and Route 66 – really wean itself from cheap oil, even while spurred on by tarred beaches and dying pelicans? Unterreiner is herself doubtful; she notes that, after Obama made that declaration, “he however became no more concrete” about how to go about it. Perhaps a start would be his CO2/climate bill – but that’s currently in “suspended animation” (im Schwebe-zustand) in the Congress.

Our old friend, the Danish journalist-in-US-residence Paul Høi – perhaps partly because he did not have to disrupt his sleep-patterns to watch – also has a piece out on Obama’s address: Obama aims high and hits low. He divides the speech into two very different parts and has very little to say about the first, which he characterizes as simply a populist tirade designed to up his sagging poll numbers by demonstrating that he is in charge and is perfectly able to get tough with BP. No, like Die Welt’s Unterreiner, he’d prefer to focus on the second “idealistic” part where the President announced the end of cheap oil and puts developing new sources of “green” energy on par with the campaign in the 1960s to put an American astronaut on the Moon. “Does he seriously mean that?” he asks. After all, Høi knows the math: to get something like that CO2 bill through the American Senate you need 60 votes, and since there are now 41 Republicans, Obama probably does not have them.

Then again – Obama also did not have 60 votes in the Senate for his Health Care Reform bill, which of course did ultimately pass earlier this year. Yes, I realize that that was true only at the end . . . but give the man a break, Høi is just trying to find some sort of silver lining here, some sign that Obama’s talk about “the end of cheap oil” was more than mere words. Actually, he borrows this silver lining from an analysis by Ezra Kline of the Washington Post, who professes to see signs from the language in Obama’s speech that indicate that the President is in fact serious, more precisely indications of an attitude of “Come with what you’ve got, give me what we can agree on, and will pass a law that will lead us in the right direction” – supposedly also the President’s attitude to Health Care Reform, once he got serious about passing it, and supposedly his attitude now about the CO2 stuck in Congress.

Update: OK, that was a couple of foreign commentators. But you’ve got to think they are on to something with their “Was he serious?” doubts when the same stance is taken by the Rude Pundit. (Warning: As usual, profane language.) “So tell us what to do,” His Rudeness implores. “Lead us. That’s what we want . . . not an especially skilled anchor[man] informing us that oil spills are bad.”

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