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06.15.10

We Need Plans, Not Prayers

There was no grand plan or even any real specifics in Obama’s speech, and for those rooting for the president to succeed in the Gulf, it felt like an update—not a home run.

I’m not actually the most qualified person in my family to judge President Obama’s speech Tuesday night. That designation goes to my oldest daughter, a student at Tulane University during Katrina who recently finished a clinical rotation at a hospital in New Orleans. She is not particularly political, but she is passionate about Louisiana and the coast. And she gave me unshirted hell about the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.

Her verdict on Obama’s speech: “A lot of hopefully but not a lot of specifics about the cleanup.” She thought the president was optimistic but not realistic about cleanup projections.

I wanted the president to knock the speech out of the park. I am rooting for Obama to succeed in the Gulf. I want him to marshal the complete resources of the federal government to engineer a response appropriate to the level of the environmental crisis we face. I want him to demonstrate a level of leadership commensurate to the catastrophe.

More Daily Beast writers react to Obama's Oval Office speechThere is no doubt he is trying. There is no doubt he understands the significance of the crisis and the potential for damage to the coast, our economy, and his presidency.

But Tuesday night’s speech felt more like a series of singles and bunts to get men in scoring position than swinging for the fences to clear the bases and score big.

On Monday I wrote that in order for an Oval Office speech to be successful, it had to announce new plans, not just be an update of activities.

The speech was largely that: an update. While some of the information was impressive in terms of the resources and personnel currently deployed, it also sounded defensive, as if the goal was to elude criticism for what may not have been done.

But there was no grand plan or even any real specifics. And on energy policy, absolutely nothing new.

You might expect criticism like the following from Fox News analysts, but here’s just a sampling from Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC: “Great speech if you’d been on another planet for the last 57 days...He aimed really low—in fact he didn’t aim at all...Nothing specific enough...Didn’t address the bigger picture...I don’t sense executive command...A missed opportunity.”

And perhaps the cruelest blow of all, Matthews compared Obama to Jimmy Carter. Ouch.

Obama didn’t announce a plan. He announced a plan to come up with a plan. Unfortunately that responsibility will fall to yet another Washington, D.C., blue-ribbon commission.

And, as usual, he placed blame on the Bush administration.

Obama closed his speech by asking us all to pray. That’s what we’ve been doing. We don’t need more prayers, we need more plans.

Final grades: A for effort, B for style, C for content.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.