Obama and the Oil Spill: The Things You Can’t Fix

The president said all the right words in his speech, but nothing matters until the hole is plugged.

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With new estimates putting the daily production from the spill at more than 2 million barrels a day, and projections that it’ll take until August, or September some say, to get the relief wells functional, Obama has to know he’s playing a very weak hand.

And he went with what he had; even as he was promising to do whatever it took to plug the hole and clean up the mess, Obama tried to prepare us for the possibility that the oil will continue to spill all summer long. He used war analogies to trying to mobilize the nation as if against some common enemy.

“The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years,” he said. “But make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes…Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward.”


And lay it out he did, a war on an ocean of uncontained light Louisiana crude. “Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the Gulf,” the president said. “And I have authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, clean beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims — and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.”

The unanswered question is whether he can keep the Gulf disaster from contaminating his presidency the way it is defiling the Gulf of Mexico. On Tuesday, he took the opportunity to talk about our addiction to oil and the need for a new energy policy; but legislative proposals, as important as they are, seemed insufficient to the moment; a modest policy/political response to a monumental disaster

American energy policy is a complicated and contentious issue, and the Gulf spill only makes it more so. We can go to war against the oil spill, or go to war on each other about the future of our energy consumption. We can be angry or not; we can be in charge or not, but until we plug the damn hole, none of the rest of it will matter much.

Terence Samuel is The Root‘s editor-at-large. His first book, The Upper House: A Journey Behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate, was released last month. Follow him on Twitter.

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