A disastrous speech from the Oval Office
The President had three tasks to fulfill last night – and he flunked them all
By Alexander Cockburn
JUNE 16, 2010
Obama rolled out a big gun from the arsenal of White House crisis management yesterday, an Oval Office address. Excluding FDR’s legendary fireside chats of the 1930s, there’s scant evidence across the past 40 years that as a venue for rallying the nation, the presidential sanctum did Obama’s predecessors as president much good. Last night, Obama’s maiden speech from the Oval Office was an unmitigated disaster. Even his stoutest supporters in the press could say nothing in its favour. Obama would have been best advised to say nothing and leave the nation to the evening’s main business, the NBA playoffs.
It was certainly the worst rally-the-nation speech by a US president I’ve ever watched, and that includes Nixon’s cornered-rat addresses of the early 1970s and – an ominous parallel – Jimmy Carter’s fireside chat in April 1977, four months into his presidency, to publicise his Plan for Energy Independence. To dramatise the need for conservation Carter wore a cardigan. He said the crusade for energy reduction was “the moral equivalent of war”. As he said these words he clenched his fist. America was unimpressed, but not as unimpressed as it was last night.
Asked a couple of weeks ago about the president’s apparent inability to project anger, his PR man, Robert Gibbs, said the president had been clenching his jaw. Better that he had continued clenching, and thus been unable to open it to unleash last night’s windy little homily, ripe with cliche, bare of specifics and without even the pummeling of BP that everyone had been looking forward to.