Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up
In last week's post on Obama's Oval Office speech on the oil spill you read how Mike Allen, the Washington columnist the New York Times dubbed "The Man the White House Wakes Up To," anticipated the importance of the event. Mr. Allen's succinct postmortem: "It's the first Obama speech ever panned by the talking heads."
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer for George H. W. Bush, was more specific:
The president's failure to turn things around Tuesday night with a speech damaged his reputation as a man whose rhetorical powers are such that he can turn things around with a speech. He lessened his own mystique. Reaction among his usual supporters was, in the words of Time's Mark Halperin, "fierce, unforeseen disappointment."
Ms. Noonan went on to list more pans from other Obama supporters, including the usually loyal Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. Then she concluded, "The right didn't like the speech either."
Even the New York Times' Frank Rich, another loyal Obama supporter, agreed, "The speech's pans were inevitable," but he went on to add, "it also provides him with a nearly unparalleled opening to make his and government's case." Mr. Rich was referring to another oil spill speech that received even worse pans than the president's; that of Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said:
I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case, a $20 billion shakedown
The nation, the press, the Democrats, and even the Republicans reacted in utter shock at the insensitivity of the statement. So much so, the Republicans forced Mr. Barton to backpedal:
I want the record to be absolutely clear that I believe BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible and should in every way possible make good on the consequences that have resulted from this accident. If anything I've said this morning was misconstrued from that I want to apologize for that misconstruction.
Mr, Barton's position is the "unparalleled opening" to which Mr. Rich was referring. He urged the president, "There couldn't be a riper moment for Obama, as a man once said, to bring it on."
Speechmaking is often like sports: win some, lose some.
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