With the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the present all-consuming issue of his presidency, Barack Obama decided to go on the offensive, somewhat, to tell his side of the sordid story. He sought to reassure a growing skeptical America that he was in charge and painted a rosy picture of what will happen down the road. There were many "ifs" and some unanswered questions in a sometimes emotional speech. As speeches go this one was classic and vintage Obama: some facts, some spin, sprinkled with tough talk and delivered in his engaging, deliberate style. His supporters loved it; his detractors hated it, and those in betwixt remained ambivalent to the president's public relations efforts.
But I have to hand it to the president he did quiet some critics on the right who were all jumping about in glee about the spill being "Obama's Katrina." Others still felt that he looked "presidential" whatever that is supposed to mean. Maybe it was the dark suit or the tie. How does someone "look presidential?" Or maybe it's because he did not resort to a stupid choice of ghetto language and again threaten to kick BP in the derriere.
The speech was great for what President Obama did not say. In fact the questions left unanswered shouted in a loud cacophony of silence that was completely deafening. He did not say if he was going to order his Attorney General Judge Eric Holder to bring criminal proceedings against BP. Maybe BP is "too big to be dragged into court." Still, in the president's own words "BP was reckless." If that is the case then that recklessness is to blame for 11 people losing their lives and over 20 injured. This rises to the level of criminal negligence. The facts are there: BP cut corners and knew by its "reckless actions" that it was putting the lives of workers in potential danger. Putting profit over people BP ignored expert advice that its actions would result in deadly outcomes.
If ever there is a prima facie case to bring criminal charges against BP and those who gave the green light to operate in this slip-shod manner without regards for the lives of its employees then BP fits every criteria again and again and again. There is a Caribbean saying used to describe these kinds of situations: "when you are big, you are large." And BP is certainly very, very big and very large so prosecuting them for their criminal behavior is as likely to happen as me walking on water.
President Obama did not say that BP's actions were criminal only reckless. I was disappointed.
Hear the president again: "Already, I have issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, 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."
Ah, the art of political spin, half-truths and word craft. The fact is that President Obama issued a six-month moratorium on new permits for deepwater drilling but production continues full steam ahead from existing deepwater wells in the same Gulf of Mexico region all carrying the same potential for disaster as BP. The conclusion to be drawn here is that President Obama does not want to anger the powerful oil industry whose financial contributions to the Democratic - and Republican Parties are very sizeable and there are November mid-term elections coming up, right?
My biggest disappointment in the entire speech was when the president spoke about setting up some mechanism to handle financial compensation from BP that is going to be independent of his Administration. It's the kind of set-up that politicians do when they are clueless about a situation but have to appear to the public as "doing something." If this commission, task force, body or whatever you call it does not have real subpoena and other powers then it's a joke. BP has absolutely no reason to cooperate or respect a toothless organization set up by the president just because it was set up by him. Matter of fact, to date BP has routinely twisted the facts, lied to the president and his Administration, and acted as the big bad wolf in its dithering clean-up activities.
The Presidential speech from the Oval Office conjured up the image of Obama as a war president. I'm sure that that's all well and good. But his speech was not remotely combative even if there were some moments of tough talk. It was essentially a speech long on carefully designed catch phrases and words primarily used with the next day's headlines in mind and TV pundits' talking points. That's message delivery craft not solution driven, hard-nosed decision-making and informed, bold leadership. That too disappointed me.
Finally, after over 50 days of badgering BP, walking the beaches on photo operational presidential inspection tours President Obama sat down for a face to face meeting with the bosses of BP. What the heck too him so long? If as he said this spill is akin to September 11, 2001 then where was his sense of urgency to have it cleaned up and demands for an explanation from those responsible? Hell, if his response to date is anything like the Bush Administration's response to 9-11 then the Gulf States are going to be in terrible shape for a very, very long time.
In the end corporate greed, governmental corruption, and big money were responsible for this environmental and economic disaster. President Obama and his team committed the first mistake by consistently insisting that BP was in charge of cleaning up the spill. No, from day one even though he was engaged - the president should have appointed someone to take charge of the entire fiasco not put some semi-retired admiral to coordinate the disaster efforts. In this scenario it was like having the BP fox guard the hen-house.
But I am an eternal optimist and I still have faith in this president. I believe that despite being torn between his friendship with corporate America and the people who elected him to office he will eventually do the right thing. His political savviness and sense of decency simply does not allow him to do otherwise.