Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Will Obama “Go Big” Tonight?

Marc Ambinder has always sounded to me like he’s pretty well plugged into the Obama White House. So I’m inclined to believe his report that there’s a deep division among Obama’s advisers about how he should, and will, use tonight’s prime time address on the Gulf Oil spill. Ambinder's getting conflicting predictions from highly placed White House sources about what Obama will say (my emphasis):

A senior administration official to whom I put the question this morning responded that Obama recognizes that the moment to assert his command over the disaster that is the BP oil spill has passed. Another official said Obama will use the time to "go Big. That's where he does best."

“Details are not protuberant from the West Wing. It may well be that Obama has not yet decided how he wants to use his first Oval Office address. It is clear that the American people want to hear something from him. The White House believes that they don't want a lament. They certainly won't mind a little blame-casting. Officials are preparing new rules for the energy sector, but it's hard to imagine that Obama would borrow our ears to tell us about new regulations, chapter and verse.

If Obama goes big, there is really only one way he can attempt it: he must call on Congress to put a price on carbon by the end of the year. The pivot from gushing oil to climate change is at once harder than it seems and blindingly obvious. Oil is polluting the Gulf; it's not raising temperatures. The transition to a more ecologically friendly economy will require carbon creation. It will also require economic sacrifice.”
This rings true because it recapitulates the division within the White House over ObamaCare in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts senatorial election last January. On the one hand, you had a faction, reportedly spearheaded by Rahm Emanuel, urging Obama to reconcile himself to emerging political realities and settle for much less than half a loaf. On the other, there was a faction, reportedly including David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, urging Obama to be the “transformational president” he aspires to be in the conviction (or the wishful hope) that the voters will come around in due course.

Presumably when the source telling Ambinder that Obama will “go Big” tonight because “[t]hat’s where he does best,” he’s thinking of the ObamaCare precedent. Let’s grant that the fight over ObamaCare showed Obama at the top of his game. There’s no denying that his White House, together with the Democratic congressional leadership, were adept at twisting enough arms severely enough to get an extremely unpopular bill passed. By any measure, however, Obama’s efforts at persuading voters that ObamaCare was worthy of their support were a spectacular failure; indeed, the more he talked about health care reform, the less popular his version of it became.

Does anyone seriously believe that, now that his approval ratings are lower than they were before ObamaCare passed, that Obama can persuade enough voters about the advisability of carbon pricing to light a fire under Congress to address a problem that won’t be felt by voters for at least thirty years by imposing substantial “economic sacrifice” on them now? It seems to me that Obama’s going Big tonight will admit of only two plausible interpretations: either his White House has lost its grip on reality, or Obama meant it when he said he’s ready to be a one-term president.


bondwooley said...

I think that Obama is making the right choice in using the Oval Office as a backdrop during this horrible event. Sure, it didn't always work for Carter or Bush, but he stands a change to gain back some respect.

Unless, that is, he decides to cave into the segment of the population that want to see him pull his hair out, just so we know that "he feels our pain."

On that note, readers might enjoy a moment of satire on the cries that we need to see more outrage:

Too Chill for the Spill

Anonymous said...

I agree on BOTH of your points: Obama's White House has lost its grip on reality AND Obama meant it when he said he’s ready to be a one-term president, 'cause that's what's he's going to be.
I can't imagine what "going big" means. But here's what he should do tonight: stick to the facts. What happened, why it's hard to fix, what to expect and what the federal govt is going to do to protect our shores and our people and hold those responsible for the accident accountable. This is not the time to talk about anything other than the matter at hand. Americans don't need outrage or diversionary tactics. Just the facts. And he should stay off the golf course until all the oil is cleaned up.
And, who can take Ambinder seriously if he uses a word like "protuberant"?