06.15.10

Swimming Against the Current

The speech won’t set him back. But Bush strategist Nicolle Wallace argues it won’t change many minds, either.

President Obama took to the airwaves from the Oval Office Tuesday night to convince the nation that he has a “battle plan” to defeat one of the most dogged enemies ever to threaten our shores. He spoke tenderly of the plight of the Gulf coast shrimpers; he promised that the government will do what is necessary; he prayed for courage. And despite reports from early in his presidency that Republicans are not “rooting” for him, every American is rooting for our president to figure out how to plug the leak.

The problem with tonight’s calm, polished address isn’t that it lacked passion. It’s time for people to stop whining about our passionless president. The problem with Obama’s speech is that no matter how artful the rhetoric, President Obama can’t say anything that will match the power of the images we’ll wake up to tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. Even the clips from tonight’s address will run on split screens with live images of the gusher. And in the days, weeks and months ahead, the images will only become more wrenching as wildlife and miles and miles of pristine coastline are covered with crude.

No matter how artful the rhetoric, President Obama can’t say anything that will match the power of the images we’ll wake up to tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that.

Obama’s speech won’t set him back in any way. He looked presidential and his oratory skills are among the best of any president. But the address reminded me of an Oval Office address delivered by George W. Bush in 2005. In that speech, President Bush offered a brutally honest assessment of mistakes made in our military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq. At an earlier point in his presidency, it might have bolstered Bush’s standing with a war-weary public. But as with Obama’s speech tonight, the message was delivered at a point when most Americans had already formed their opinions, and the words didn’t match the images people saw on their televisions.

More Daily Beast writers react to Obama's Oval Office speechObama said Tuesday night that he would not settle for inaction. I’m sure those were welcome words to the exasperated state and local leaders of the Gulf coast states. He said “if something doesn’t work, we want to hear about it.” I’m sure his phone is already ringing.

Nicolle Wallace, author of the upcoming novel Eighteen Acres, served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.