For all his talents, it is evident that Barack Obama is not well suited for this long hot summer spill. Now Americans may continue to give him a pass. The President did not cause this environmental tragedy, after all, and his trouble taking stage direction for the "symbolic" portion of crisis-management may ultimately look more like benign authenticity than a shortcoming in leadership. Obama’s ongoing response to the most consequential domestic crisis of his presidency, however, is still revealing. Charles Krauthammer, the neoconservative Obama critic, argues in his Friday column that this week’s presidential address showed the nature of Obama’s ambition — and its limits:
Barack Obama doesn’t do the mundane. He was sent to us to do larger things. You could see that plainly in his Oval Office address on the gulf oil spill. He could barely get himself through the pedestrian first half: a bit of BP-bashing, a bit of faux-Clintonian "I feel your pain," a bit of recovery and economic mitigation accounting. It wasn’t until the end of the speech — the let-no-crisis-go-to-waste part that tried to leverage the Gulf Coast devastation to advance his cap-and-trade climate-change agenda — that Obama warmed to his task. Pedestrian is beneath Obama. Mr. Fix-It he is not.
Then Krauthammer walks through a few standard conservative environmental complaints, but circles back to Obama’s constitution in closing:
Obama is dreamer in chief: He wants to take us to this green future "even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet precisely know how we’re going to get there."… That’s why Tuesday’s speech was received with such consternation. It was so untethered from reality. The gulf is gushing, and the president is talking mystery roads to unknown destinations. That passes for vision, and vision is Obama’s thing. It sure beats cleaning up beaches.
And whatever you think of Krauthammer, here’s where one premise of his critique matches progressive concerns about the substance of Obama’s response.
In her masterful alternative address as "fake president," MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow didn’t really play out a "more liberal" approach to the crisis. She simply advocated stonger remedial meausures on the ground ("a new federal command specifically for containment and cleanup of oil that has already entered the Gulf of Mexico with priority of protecting shoreline that can still be saved"), and a zero tolerance policy for drilling ("Never again will any company, anyone be allowed to drill in a location where they are incapable of dealing with the potential consequences of that drilling"). She wanted a President focused on clean-up and targeted policy remedies first, and broader reforms second. And when she did speak to reform — the energy bill came third — Maddow, unlike Obama, was actually precise about both policy objectives and the procedural route to victory:
The United States Senate will pass an energy bill this year. The Senate version of the year will not expand offshore drilling. The earlier targets in that bill for energy efficiency and for renewable energy sources will be doubled or tripled. If senators use the filibuster to stop the bill, we will pass it by reconciliation which still ensures a majority vote. If there are elements of a bill that cannot procedurally be passed by reconciliation, if those elements can be instituted by executive order, I will institute them by executive order.
When is the last time you even heard The President say "filibuster" in a major address?
In any event, Maddow and Krauthammer still diverge on the policies Obama should enact. But unlike much of the commentariat, they both want less dreaming, less posturing, and more details.