President Obama did not quite go all Winston Churchill on BP.
He did not say, "We will fight them on the beaches…" That would have been a bit too much.
But he did declare, in one of the most critical speeches of his presidency, that "we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes."
There really was no room left for caution or compromise.
Obama knew he had waited too long to deliver "the speech" about the BP oil spill. Americans had gotten restless. Sure, they blamed BP for being a "bad polluter." But they also were starting to wonder whether their president had a plan to do what the petroleum giant has not, perhaps cannot and probably will not do.
For practical and political reasons, Obama needed to give "the speech."
And when he did finally give it, he gave it his all.
This was no Jimmy Carter-in-a-sweater-speech. There were no proposals to turn down the thermostat or check your tire pressure. And there was no talk about a malaise that might be tough to overcome.
Delivering his address Tuesday night from the Oval Office, where president’s traditionally speak to the nation in moments of threat and emergency, Obama appeared as the commander-in-chief in the battle to clean up the spill, restore a battered Gulf Coast, hold BP to account and, maybe, develop the sort of "clean energy" policies that will prevent another such disaster.
Obama, who had referred earlier in the week to the corporate crisis as "an assault on our shores" confronted the challenges with military language.
He laid out what he called "a battleplan."
He called out the National Guard.
He pledged to "mobilize" to "combat" what he called "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced."
He declared: "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."
The rhetoric was right.
The tone was strong.
Of course, as is always the case with this president, the specifics were a little vague.
The bold gestures were administrative:
* an order that there will be no more deep-sea drilling until a commission figures out if it can be done safely—not a popular move with oil workers, "but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue,"
* a thorough shake-up at the Mineral Management Service that will make it "a regulator," not "a partner," of industry,
* an assignment of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (a former Mississippi governor) to "develop a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan as soon as possible."