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06.15.10

A Stubbornly Passionless Speech

Obama chose a new location, the Oval Office, for his inaugural State of the Oil Spill address, but he stayed loyal to his actuarial side.

On Tuesday night, we saw the debut of a new oratorical exercise, one that may, in the short term—though, mercifully, without Nancy Pelosi seated in the background—come to rival the State of the Union (SOTU) address. Let us call it the State of the Oil Spill, or SOTOS.

Listening to the inaugural SOTOS, as brimming with bromides as the Gulf of Mexico is brimming with crude oil, one was struck by how passionless the president is. Don’t get me wrong, passion is no substitute for action; and on its own, passion is empty theater. But one was struck by how Barack Obama continues to place peculiarly stubborn trust in his actuarial side—you know, the side that was once described as “cerebral,” but which is now capable of little better than a litany of facts and figures: 30,000 persons working on the spill, he said; thousands of ships; 17,000 National Guard members; 5.5 million feet of boom…

More Daily Beast writers react to Obama's Oval Office speechObama has a plan: “BP will pay.” Of course it will: It is legally obliged to. Did we need a president to tell us so, at prime time? But Obama has a civilizational point to make. In the opening of his address, right after al Qaeda, he spoke of the oil spill “assaulting” our shores. In language redolent of the neocon fighting words of yore, directed against Islamist terrorism, he intoned that “We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes,” to “make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.” On the edge of my seat, I was waiting for the punch line: You’re either against this oil spill, or with it. It never came.

Instead, we got the rinky-dink green tub-thump against “America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels”; and the rinky-dink chest-puff that asserted that “The time to enhance a clean-energy future is now.” And don’t forget those “energy-efficient windows” that Obama talked about in reverent tones, windows the president would like all of us to have...lest we defenestrate ourselves in a state of oil-crazed madness. That is, unless we “seize the moment” and “rally together and act as one nation.” Whee!

Until the next SOTOS, which should be in a month’s time, I am, yours truly, Tunku Varadarajan.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)