George W. Bush could have given Obama’s speech last night, and the reaction would have been the same: it was all bluster. Bush would not ask the country for sacrifice to pay for his wars and tax cuts. Obama doesn’t want to ask people to pay for new energy and tougher regulations for a host of industries: coal oil and financial, to name a few. He certainly did not take my advice.
While Obama alluded to the need to build weapon systems for World War II as a time when the country faced a challenge, he did not mention that we sacrificed to do that. Copper, sugar and other products were rationed. The build-up of the space program after Sputnik required huge federal investment. Alternative energy will require the same magnitude of investment and will require federal dollars that even Democrats are unwilling to raise.
The first part of his speech was mind-numbing with its lists of projects and their costs. He continues to have speech patterns that are also mind-numbing in their repetitious inflections: regularly dropping his voice at the end of sentences. It gives his speeches a condescending tone.
When he talked about the lives upended by the Gulf spill, he seemed on the right track. He could have compared what the U.S. needs to do to help the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf with what it has done to help other folks, including teachers and police officers, keep their jobs over the past two years. He could have said to help those industries he needs their support for a new energy direction. Oil and fishing do not mix. But if a motel operator doesn’t want to stop oil drilling because his brother works on a rig, then they’ll both have to live with the consequences. One of them—or both—need to sacrifice to solve our energy problems. The oil employee needs to retrain for green energy jobs, and the motel operator needs to pay more taxes to help with that transition.
But Obama, like Bush, wants to make it look easy, as if all we need in determination, the same determination we need to defeat Al Qaeda. But money and unending one’s life to take on new challenges? No, we don’t need to go there.
He has ruined his Oval Office speech command. The next time he schedules one, most observers will think it another bland attempt to recapture lost political momentum. Besides, if you’re going to talk about sacrifice, better to do it when there is no live audience. To ask for that in front of one, you risk the pundit analysis of the crowd reaction. Since people usually don’t wildly applaud when told they need to sacrifice, the chattering class will point out that “Obama’s proposals were met with a stony silence.”
Obama may be genetically incapable of delivering passion or empathy. But he could have said,
“Next time, government will not be able to plug the hole without massive expenditures necessary to duplicate capabilities oil companies should have.
But government can minimize the likelihood of another disaster by instituting tough regulations and hiring tough regulators. We need to move us away from energy sources that put the country at such risk of economic and environmental disaster.
That will call on all of us to make sacrifices. Oil workers will need to adapt their skills to green energy needs. That may not be hard to do, as the manual and manufacturing jobs will not require significantly different skills. And if the public is willing to help through higher taxes, government can help pay and deliver the necessary training.
Furthermore, we need to jump start green energy with investments and loans to help entrepreneurs willing to invest their own money and time into the effort. But at the end of the day, we’re not paying what oil really costs. So right now, I’m proposing a $1.50 per gallon surcharge on gasoline to be implemented in steps over the next five years to raise the funds needed to wean ourselves from our oil addiction. That will mean folks who rely on their car to get to work will have to tighten their belts elsewhere or find jobs closer to home or car pool or use mass transit. These are small sacrifices for our children’s futures.
The good thing I can tell you is that if we seriously attack our addiction to oil, the price of gasoline will come down as oil companies seek to hold on to their customers. But if we think we can fix this problem without sacrifice, we will accomplish nothing, other than give the oil industry the carte blanche they want to manacle us to their drug.”
But he didn’t go there. He punted instead. Obama is becoming a disappointment not only to progressives but to independents who though they were voting for a strong leader. As of May 23, as many people think Obama is a strong leader as they did at the end of the political campaign. His leadership reputation, except for a bump at his inauguration, has remained steady. But if he keeps blowing chances to lead, he’ll become as feckless as Bush was in the waning years of his administration.