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Obama Speech: Good, Bad, Too Little Too Late?

OK, setting up a live blog for readers who are watching the speech to comment and react. I will post some excerpts, mixed in with my own observations, plus anything fellow 538ers pipe in to say.

For starters, smart politics on the part of the White House to schedule the speech at 8 p.m. EST, rather than 9 p.m. There is the matter of a conflict with the broadcast of the Celtics beating the Lakers tonight to end the NBA season.

On a more serious note, the best thing thus far is the pivot President Obama is trying to make to connect the oil spill to yet another call for clean energy. Was expecting him to sneak a mention of nuclear power in there along with solar and wind, but he didn’t.

8:19: OK, speech just ended. Good length–short and sweet. Here’s the transcript (as provided by White House) of that pivot section about alternative fuels that I mentioned above:

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked – not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

My initial reaction to this, from a pure political calculus standpoint, is to state what should be obvious: If the unstable politics of the Middle East is not enough to motivate the nation to move toward alternative energy, will the spill be? I’d like to think so, but doubt it. That’s just the reality. I suspect we’ll see a short-term bump in polls showing support for alternative, clean fuels, and then a year from now we’ll be right back where we started. Sorry to sound cynical, but it is what it is.

8:28: The USA Today ran a warm-up piece earlier this afternoon that included comments from notable folks on what they wanted the president to say or not say in the speech. It’s clear that congressional Republicans are trying to preempt any attempt by the Administration to use the spill to push for major new energy legislation. House Minority Leader John Boehner: “President Obama should not use this crisis as an excuse to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small businesses. Americans want the president focused on stopping the leak and finding out what went wrong, not on twisting lawmakers’ arms on Capitol Hill to pass more costly, job-killing legislation.”

8:39: On the moratorium…in case you missed the speech or don’t have a transcript nearby, here’s what Obama said:

The third part of our response plan is the steps we’re taking to ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again. A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe – that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken.

That was obviously not the case on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why. The American people deserve to know why. The families I met with last week who lost their loved ones in the explosion – these families deserve to know why. And so I have established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place. Already, I have issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue. And while I urge the Commission to complete its work as quickly as possible, I expect them to do that work thoroughly and impartially.

A moratorium makes sense, but my (again) cynical response to this is, to what end? Let’s say we get definitive, clear answers to what caused the rupture and spill. Let’s say we also get recommendations to prevent that type of problem from ever happening again. That doesn’t mean there won’t be other spill-potential situations or problems. A moratorium won’t solve that. It will only delay it. There’s only one surefire way to prevent, and that is to cease. I’m not sure how I feel about offshore drilling, and my opinion doesn’t really matter. But if the president wants a permanent solution, there’s only one way to get it. Even if some prophylactic for drilling akin to double-hulled tankers is invented and then required by regulation, there are just too many moving parts in the process of bringing oil up through the bottom of the ocean.

8:42: By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, check out Rolling Stone’s article about the BP spill and the White House’s response here.