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Obama on BP oil crisis « Previous | |Next »
June 16, 2010

The political context for President Obama's first Oval Office address to the US nation is the mounting criticism of BP’s efforts to stop the spill, clean up the oil and compensate local business, a divided country and Congress; and the limitations of progressive liberalism.


Oval Office speeches are a focused and powerful tool meant to suggest the smack of political authority.They are usually made when a president is far less in control of events than he would like, making them as much about reassurance as solutions. Obama needed to assert his political authority over Big Oil because BP and the other oil companies want to continue offshore drilling for oil in places that events have shown exceed the government's ability to regulate.

At a grilling at the House of Representatives' energy and environment subcommittee on Capitol Hill the Big Oil executives said the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil disaster was merely a fluke and that their companies operate safely and are adequately prepared to deal with any accidents that may occur.

In the speech Obama linked the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to environmental destruction, unemployment, to failed regulation, the US's dependency on oil and the need for clean energy.

Obama has done little on clean energy and his message is no more inaction. However, the US is in a bad way as a result of the global financial crisis. It is deeply in debt and unemployment is high and it looks to be long term since financial crises have historically spawned long periods of economic malaise. Don Peck says:

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

It is unclear what is the engine that will pull the U.S. back onto a strong growth path, given that for the foreseeable future, U.S. consumer demand is unlikely to propel strong economic growth. Where are the innovative new industries?

In his Oval Office speech Obama was defensive. It was an exercise in into damage control, not a circuit breaker. He reasserted his political authority over BP, but can he force BP to pay for the cleanup. Obama didn't say much about the need to move toward developing sources of clean energy and he avoided saying "It's time to put a price on carbon." Nor did he address the political resistance to this kind of reform from the Senate where the Senators from the oil and gas states just don't want this kind of radical shift in energy policy.

The US president has wrung an agreement from BP executives to put $20bn (£13.6bn) into an independently managed compensation fund, with no cap on compensation BP may have to pay. BP will not pay dividends this year. Administration officials now admit that the flow of leaking oil could be 60,000 barrels a day.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:42 AM | | Comments (2)


Richard Adams concludes his blog post on the top executives from oil companies are appearing at the House of Representatives' energy and environment subcommittee on Capitol Hill to discuss the subject of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico thus:

What was interesting was seeing the other oil companies graciously allow BP to be hung out to dry, and declare that they would never have allowed such a thing to happen, other than when they were lamenting the awful luck and unfortunate, one in a million twist of fate that caused the spill.

They're kicking BP when its down to protect themselves.

Nan, there hasn't been such a show on Capitol Hill since they hauled big tobacco up, twenty years ago.
They always have one in mind of the Nuremburg Trial filmclips, these occasions- always such a rogue's gallery.