June 15, 2010

Obama's First Oval Office Address (UPDATED)

I caught the tail end of the President's address from the Oval Office tonight on NPR as I drove home.  It's hard to believe that he's been in office over a year and not before used this vehicle for communicating with the nation.  Three things struck me about what he said.

First, he sure invoked religion a lot.  He talked about the "blessing of the fleet," and the Hand of God guiding us and showing us the way out of our problems, and invoked the blessings of God on the nation in our difficult hour.  God, however, is not going to solve the problem of the oil spill -- human beings are going to solve that problem, or not, using science, technology, ingenuity, money, and labor.  God isn't in that picture, so far as I can see.  And the fact that Obama's proposed solutions to the problems we face includes a healthy dose of relying on a nonexistent God worries me.

Second, he indicated that the posture of the regulatory agencies overseeing industrial activity would become more adversarial and less cooperative.  That may or may not be a good thing -- we don't want regulators cozying up to the regulated industries, either in mining or anything else, but we also don't want to regulate industries out of existence or even out of the ability to post healthy profits for their investors.  I would hope for a balanced rather than an adversarial approach.

Third, he pointed out that we need to make a commitment to a long-term shift away from an economy where it makes sense to drill for oil in deep water.  True enough.  But the solutions he mentioned -- more energy-efficient buildings, wind and solar power, and incentivizing research by the energy industry -- left out two rather important, and achievable, pieces of the energy puzzle.  He didn't mention the word "nuclear."  We need more nuclear power plants, and he is wrong to back down from that important part of the array of options available to power our nation.  He also didn't discuss shale oil extraction, which is technology approaching the cusp of economic profitability and which contains the potential for the United States and Canada to both become bigger oil exporters than the Persian Gulf States and Russia combined.  Maybe that's something encompassed by his elliptical reference to R&D, but I doubt it.

A good energy policy is a good environmental policy and a good economic policy, all at once.  Unless all those pieces of the puzzle fit together, it's a patchwork, panicked reaction to adverse events rather than an intelligent and effective response to a crisis.  Last week, President Obama suggested that the oil spill was his 9/11.  Having suspended diplomatic travels and effectively chained himself to the Oval Office and the site of the disaster until it is solved, having early intervention attempts to resolve the process fail miserably and publicly, and facing an ongoing and readily-quantifiable count of the ever-increasing measure of the disaster, it looks a lot more like Obama's Iran Hostage Crisis to me.  Which dovetails nicely into my thoughts that Obama is really Jimmy Carter refashioned for a new generation.

(UPDATE:  Apparently I wasn't the only one underwhelmed with the Oval Office address.)

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