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Obama last night
June 16, 2010 - 8:25pm

If I tripped over a glass bottle and released a genii who would grant me a single wish, I might wish that climate change were not a Political issue in this country.

Of course, it is and always will be. The forces of "conservatism" (which seem far more interested in conserving specific human behavioral patterns than in conserving the world that makes those behaviors possible) are at war with the forces of "liberalism" (which, even after it had been transformed into a slur wasn't slur-ful enough, and so has been supplanted by "fascism", "socialism", and "eco-terrorism") which want us all to do something different. Given that what we'd been doing got us directly to where we are, the political (in the sense of any decision we need to make as a group) quickly became Political (in the sense of castigation, polarization, and intransigence). If you want behaviors to stay the same, intransigence is a pretty good tactic.

Once something political becomes Political, it generally only gets resolved when the issue is reframed, most often as the result of externally-imposed necessity. But force majeure, by itself, isn't enough to cause an automatic reframing. Leadership is still required to allow the populace to see clearly and consistently that the situation has changed and that a specific new policy is appropriate -- even beneficial.

Obama's first address from the Oval Office, last night, was just such a leadership opportunity. He blew it.

Not that most of what he said was wrong, or any of it inappropriate. Stop the flow, make sure the claims get paid, recover the coastline (appropriate, if impossible), establish a commission of inquiry to add new safety measures if they're needed (as if that's really in question), continue the moratorium, reorganize the bureaucracy. All reasonable stuff. And couched in appropriate rhetoric -- "battle plan", "what has defined us as a nation since our founding", and a closing stanza which appealed to both patriotism and faith.

A month ago, it might have been a good speech. A month ago, the prospect of BP being able to capture as much as 90% of the gushing crude might have sounded pretty good. But not now. With constantly increasing estimates of the volume being released, the 10% BP has no living shot at capturing significantly exceeds the initial (intentionally lowball) estimates of the size of the entire problem.

Since before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, the situation has been completely out of control. Assurances, denials and remonstrations aside, it remains so. And it's going to continue to be out of control at least until the relief wells get drilled -- late August, by the estimates I've heard.

What we have on our hands is a national, verging on global, disaster. Disasters can't always be reversed, but they can generally be mitigated or learned from. Obama mentioned the fact that our continuing demand for increasingly-difficult-to-obtain fossil fuels is what led us into this mess, and that curbing our appetite for that particular form of energy will be needed to prevent recurrence. All well and good.

But he delivered the message in his guise as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. Or a wealthy socialite. Or an art student classified 4-F when he attempted to enlist. None of which are likely to be able to rally a fractured and fractious populace.

Last night was Obama's chance to Hulk out. But I would have liked him a lot more if he'd started to get really angry.

 

 

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