Obama’s Speech: Two Parts, Both Bad

by Steven F. Hayward

The best feature of Obama’s Oval Office energy speech was its brevity. No doubt basketball-fan-in-chief didn’t want to preempt Game 6 of the Lakers-Celtic series. Perhaps it’s also the case that some greybeard in the White House (Axelrod? Bob Bauer?) recognized that this had become the most anticipated presidential energy speech since…Jimmy Carter in 1979. Not a good parallel. At least Obama didn’t lecture us about our “crisis of confidence” and other metaphysical failings. And he didn’t wear a windmill beanie, or whatever would be the global-warming equivalent of Carter’s infamous cardigan sweater.


The speech had two parts, equally problematic. While BP should certainly be held strictly liable for the costs and damages of the spill (as Richard Epstein argues in the Wall Street Journal today), this shouldn’t become an excuse for Obama to loot the company or politicize the compensation and damages process. But it’s probably just too irresistible to an administration that is hostile to private wealth.


The “new energy” part of the speech was more problematic. Obama practically choked on mentioning “climate,” and assiduously avoided mentioning cap-and-trade or placing an explicit price on carbon energy. Instead we got more energy happy-talk, complete with the tired trope about putting a man on the moon, which we haven’t done for a long time, without reflecting on the reason why. (Hint: It might have something to do with that favorite environmental concept: “sustainability.”)


Environmentalists have to be bitterly disappointed that Obama won’t be more publicly supportive of their agenda for dealing with “the greatest crisis the world has ever faced.” Maybe he’s just not sincere about this issue at all, as Eric Pooley suggests in his new book, The Climate Wars. A devastating excerpt last week on Slate.com suggests the White House doesn’t see climate change as the kind of crisis that is too good to waste. To the contrary, it’s the kind of crisis that could cost political support. And Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh, normally a water-carrier for the environmental establishment, says Obama’s speech represents a requiem for cap-and-trade.

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