THE LEFT: We didn’t like Obama’s big speech

Commentators turn up their noses at the oil address

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Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum:

“The whole point of a prime time Oval Office speech is that it announces something big. On that score, Obama failed right from the start. He told us that lots of people are already working the cleanup. Yawn. That Ray Mabus is going to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. A plan! Hurrah! That we’re gonna make BP pay for everything. Roger that. And then this: ‘I have established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place.’ A commission! So much for going big. Look, maybe I’m just feeling cranky. … There’s nothing wrong with an investigating commission, after all. And I happen to think that Obama’s reaction to the spill has been substantively pretty reasonable. But if you’re going to give a big Oval Office speech and that’s the best you have to offer, then let’s face it: You don’t have much to offer.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Andrew Malcolm:

“Following the advice of his chief of staff, Rahm ‘I Got a Rent-Free Apartment from a BP Adviser’ Emanuel, Obama is determined to leave no crisis unused. When he got into the decades-long fossil-fuel addiction rehab stuff, his eyes shone. His delivery punched up. Now, that is an issue that requires greatness. Another galactic reform out of Hyde Park. It sounds swell unless mega-trillion-dollar federal deficits are on your mind, which voter polls now show ranks with terrorism as Americans’ top fears.”

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd:

“You know the president is drowning - in oil this time - when he uses the Oval Office. And do words really matter when the picture of oil gushing out of the well continues to fill the screen?”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

The speech “will probably be remembered most for the … sobering spectacle of the president of the United States saying essentially that a big part of the solution to the unfolding crisis in the Gulf may be prayer.”

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait:

“The important part of his speech concerned how we would wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. This portion revealed just how much Obama is operating from a position of weakness. … Basically, he’s saying he just wants some kind of bill. His standards are very low. I can’t necessarily blame him - the votes aren’t there in the Senate, and he can’t conjure them up. He needs something that at least begins the process of transitioning to a clean-energy economy. But with the public uninterested in climate change, interest groups mostly advocating for the status quo, and moderate Democrats unwilling to take another tough vote, he’s not going to get much.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows:

“Will we look on this speech as signaling the moment when the United States stopped talking about the distortions of its oil-based economy, and did something about it? No. We mainly got more talk, including this passage with one strikingly ill-chosen word:

” ‘For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires.’

“What’s the wrong word? The one that inescapably reminds people of America’s last failed effort in this direction. If you wanted to signal that ‘things are really different now,’ you would go out of your way to avoid evoking George W. Bush’s most famous, and famously leading-nowhere pronouncement on this subject. As he put it four-plus years ago in his 2006 State of the Union address:

” ‘[W]e have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative-energy sources - and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.’ “

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