Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Very Wierd Speech

The President jarred me from the very beginning of his speech by reminding us that “our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American” and that “our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists.”

It sort of put the subject of the speech in the role of side show, and in any case the main battle ground for “our brave men and women in uniform” is Afghanistan today, and our enemy there is the Taliban because al Qaeda
is located almost everywhere except there.

I had to wait for the text of the speech to become available, so that I could go back and read it to see if it really was as vague and filled with platitudes as the impression I got when watching it live. If anything, it is worse, since his personality and presence lent it weight beyond the content of its words.

He starts the content of the Gulf disaster part of the speech with how he’d “like to lay out for you what our battle plan” is going forward for the Gulf oil crisis, and the generalizations and platitudes begin.

We get a discussion of what has been done from the “very first day,” and in general terms what thousands of troops are doing today, which is not a “plan going forward.” We get told about the millions of feet of boom that have been laid, not mentioning that most of it has been laid improperly and purely for show. Then he promises that “we will offer whatever additional resources and assistance our coastal states may need” and that if any mistakes are made, he wants to hear about them.

If we had a battle plan like that in WW2 we would all be speaking German.

Do you think I’m being unfair or overly critical? That, perhaps I’m editing to cast him in a poor light? The entire text of his speech is presented here in the New York Times, read it for yourself and see if you see any “plans going forward” other than the phrase “we will offer whatever…”

Then he speaks of “focus[ing] on the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast,” and the generalities and platitudes continue.

Here we get a fund provided by BP and administered by a third party, which is at least delivered with a touch of firmness that might even be anger at the perpetrator of this disaster, and a “long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan” developed by “states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents.” That's it for restoration.

You know what a camel is, right? It’s a horse designed by a committee.

He does get somewhat specific when it comes to dealing with what went wrong, and for once he did not specifically blame George Bush or the Republicans. As an accountability moment it fell a little short, though,

A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe –- that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken. That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why.

Approval of a plan which massively blew up in his face, and all we get is “I want to know why.” We want to know why he approved the plan, but he isn’t going to discuss that. We want some resolution of a massive presidential and national embarrassment, that something like this could happen and we were so blind to its possibility that we had just announced an expansion of the process, and he isn’t going to address that. And the promise of a “commission” to study the problem is certainly less of a solution than I was hoping for.

I’m not convinced that turning one federal bureaucracy into three of them is going to solve the problem, but it is action and it is specific. Also the guy he selected to oversee the bureaucratic cleanup looks like a good choice, so this area was definitely a high point in the speech.

But then he devolves beyond professorial and into a degree of vagueness that defies description as he segued into his ambitions for some sort of process for some sort of change for some sort of future, which he refuses to accept us not doing. The only part of it that was in any way clear was his refusal to accept us not doing it.

He referred to FDR marshalling known technology to build ships and planes specifically to defeat Nazi Germany. He referred to JFK marshalling known technology for the specific goal of placing a man on the moon in a specific time period of ten years. He then compared those two things to plunging forward with some sort of process and going someplace,

Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there. We know we'll get there.

Assuming that we do get there, how will we know we’re there?

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