Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 3, 2010

THE PITCH.... President Obama's speech in Pittsburgh yesterday was ostensibly about the economy. Those who read the transcript will notice it was about a whole lot more.

As a practical matter, the speech will go unnoticed by most of the country, and the media seems to have largely deemed it unimportant. That's a shame -- the speech, among other things, offered a very strong hint about the campaign message we'll likely hear the rest of the year, made one of the more pointed critiques of the Republican Party we've heard in a while, and included some strong policy language about pending legislation.

There was a lot to the speech, and it's tough to excerpt, but I especially enjoyed the president explaining why the Republican vision -- a "belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges" -- is hopelessly wrong.

"The last administration called this recycled idea 'the Ownership Society.' But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own. No matter how hard you work, if your paycheck isn't enough to pay for college or health care or childcare, well, you're on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you're on your own. And if you're a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.

"Now, I've never believed that government has all the answers.... But I also understand that throughout our nation's history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government against the dangers of an unfettered market. We've provided a basic safety net, because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives and may need some help getting back on our feet. And we've recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn't do and corporations wouldn't do.

"That's how we have railroads and highways, public schools and police forces. That's how we've made possible scientific research that has led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for Hepatitis B, and technological wonders like GPS. That's how we have Social Security and a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat and the water we drink and the air that we breathe. That's how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and, yes, that oil companies pay for the spills that they cause."

The right has consistently applied their principles -- against Social Security, against Medicare, against FDIC -- and been proven wrong. We also just wrapped up a decade in which their modern approach to governing was attempted, and failed spectacularly.

"So we know where those ideas lead us. And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward. And I don't know about you, but I want to move forward. I think America wants to move forward."

If that strikes you as a campaign theme, summarizing why Democrats deserve voters' support, we're on the same page.

What's more, as lawmakers continue to ponder whether to pursue energy/climate legislation this year, Obama's speech made a compelling case.

"[T]his brings me to an issue that's on everybody's minds right now -- namely, what kind of energy future can ensure our long-term prosperity. The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both. And I've launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened. But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks -- (applause) -- these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren. (Applause.)

"We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month -- including countries in dangerous and unstable regions. In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.

"Now, I understand that we can't end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That's why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it's safe, and only if it's used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.

"And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. (Applause.) Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation's fleet of nuclear power plants. It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.

"But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.

"The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate -- a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans -- that would achieve the same goal. And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. (Applause.) I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can. (Applause.) I will work with anyone to get this done -- and we will get it done.

"The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward."

The American Power Act faces an uncertain future, but the more Obama offers strong public endorsements like this one, the better its odds.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Yes, the important speech was ignored by the Corporate/Repiglican media. Yet, that same media 'reported' on the ever important incoherent ramblings posted on Palin's facebook page ...

Posted by: stormskies on June 3, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, for the last 30 years, we have let them try their little experiments, and especially in Bush's two illegitimate terms.
At the cost of trillions of dollars and an ocean of blood.
Good messaging, Mr. President. I also like the one he came up with a few weeks about the Republicans driving the car into the ditch, and now wanting to drive again.
You couldn't govern, so no, you can't drive again!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on June 3, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, I was astounded that the NYT virtually ignored what Obama actually said, giving more space to Eric Cantor's 'pre-buttal' than to Obama; but more astounded that Keith Olbermann gave us one snippet {and amazing one, at that!) then framed it with all sorts of pundits saying this is Obama's Waterloo. And no one mentioned his demand that BP pay for dredging the Louisiana coast...

Posted by: jjm on June 3, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Not that I expect obamabots to look at reality, but the corporate hack in the WH talks like this all the time - literally blowing hot air.

However, he actually sides with the same interests, effectively becoming dur chimpfurher's third term.

He sold us out on EVERYTHING that he ran on.

And now some idiots want to say more of his lies should be given coverage by the media?!?!?!?


When obamarahma makes statements like this, it is just pandering to his base - he has no intention of living by these words.


He will be a 1-termer because the enough of his political base resents being shammed into electing another lying corporatist.

Posted by: asdfjkl; on June 3, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

My fellow American brutes...

Good fundamental stuff.
He and the Ds need to play this platter over and over...
Almost as if, our fellow citizens were a bit slow on the uptake...

Posted by: koreyel on June 3, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The oil leak IS OBAMA'S KATRINA TIMES 1000!

We are stuck in endless wars - he's already laid the groundwork to stiff us on another campaign promise - "wrong war at wrong time" bs.

He has used progressive talk to enable a scale of corporate looting that even cheney/chimpy would not have attempted.

He has packed a commission to eliminate Social Security so that he can cover his financial giveaways to corporate america, even managing to bamboozle the public to make HCR an insurance industry bailout.

Posted by: asdfjkl; on June 3, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

As you pointed out the speech was hard to excert. This is both Obama's greatest strenght and his biggest weakness. The speech was powerul and makes a strong impression. But one can not pull out a 20 second soindbite to play over and over again on TV. So the news media, unable to de with something that can't be reduced to a sound byte Ignores it.

Posted by: Thorin-1 on June 3, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Best part of speech was about how the Republicans govern and why their type of governing doesn't work:

It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.

Posted by: sheridan on June 3, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The old media, Newspapers and TV, selectively present what they want us to see and read. That control would have worked 30 years ago, but it won't work now. I get all my information on whats going on in the country and the world from the Blogosphere as well as other news outlets in the world, not controlled by Rupert Murdoch or american vested interests. I don't read newspapers anymore nor do I watch TV news, especially Fox and the Fox-lite CNN.
It's a different world out there, and the old Media is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they can't control information from being shared and spread.

Posted by: VERBERNE on June 3, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

The trolls are out in force. A rare occurrence around these parts.

Posted by: Shade Tail on June 3, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

obmabot or not, what is quite grievous about this speech has little to do with Obama. it has to do with the simplistic statements necessary to make a point that was a basic and valued assumption not oo long ago -- say pre-ronnie rayguns...

It is to talk to a three-year-old child to say things like "... and so that's why we have highways and public schools, and police ..."

This inability to already have some notion of the common good just transparently ingrained in our being is indicative of the nihilism in which we live and in which our civilization grows dimmer every god damn day.

tune in next week when Pres Obama shows you how to tie our shoes, and feed ourselves...

Posted by: neill on June 3, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

To those of you zealots complaining about Obama being a "corporatist", remember the context of this game. We've had three plus decades of unanswered propaganda from the right that has so permeated the national consciousness that "liberalism" is a swear word. You don't simply counteract this with a magic wand. You need to speeches like this one to get people thinking again. And if the media ignore it, repeat it. Again and again.

I used to be a purist but somewhere into middle age I realized life is too short. You can only do your best with the prevailing circumstances. Let's not hold our politics hostage to some imaginary world where liberals are sanctified victims. Let's get back to work in the REAL world.

Posted by: walt on June 3, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

TO Larry and asdfjkl; ------------
So what's your solution to things here in the USA. That we should dismantle all corporations or that we should turn the country into a giant collective. Perhaps tempering your passion with moderation would be more helpfull. Of course that's not good enough for you because your relly no different in mind set than the tea baggers. It's all your way or the highway.

Posted by: Gandalf on June 3, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

and the media seems to have largely deemed it unimportant. ... the speech, among other things, offered a very strong hint about the campaign message we'll likely hear ...

Come on, Steve, I thought you understood -- "the media" writes the narrative, not the president.

Posted by: karen marie on June 3, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Hey alphabet Larry, go back to FDL. You and Jane Hamsher can simultaneously blow Erick Erickson while you slam Obama. Fun times for all.

Posted by: MsJoanne on June 3, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Walt...a most astute comment. Adults work in the real world dealing with the times they actually live in, not some hypothetical nirvana they dream of.

Posted by: maggie on June 3, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

"Now, I understand that we can't end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That's why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it's safe, and only if it's used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy."

A "careful plan of offshore oil production?" Was that "plan" conceived before or after the spill? Methinks the latter.

I understand that Obama has been dealing with shitstorms on multiple fronts, but this could have been handled in a 5-minute conversation with Salazer had Obama been truly concerned about the excesses of the oil industry and the rampant corruption at MMS that has been going on for YEARS, if not DECADES. All Obama had to do was give marching orders to Salazar to clean up MMS, prosecute the worst offenders (BP) and listen to oil industry critics.

WTF has Salazar been doing this past year? I'de really like to know. BP has 10X the violations of any other company drilling off our shores. Had any corrective action been taken in the form of intense regulatory oversight? It appears not.

There isn't a day that passes where I'm not thankful that Obama/Biden is in the WH and not McCain/Palin, but I can't give these guys a pass on this. I elected them to appoint people who would restore meaning to the phrase "regulatory oversight." Salazar just seems like another industry-friendly "partner."

We need to get rid of him and appoint someone who truly represents the public's interest.

Posted by: bdop4 on June 3, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Well I can certainly understand why our MSM would ignore this speech, where is the bipartisanship and the he said she said balance. After all facts and truth don't sell ads do they?

Posted by: grandpajohn on June 3, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

It IS an important speech and up to US to get it out there. The media has deemed it unimportant so they won't cover it. Obama will keep on keeping on and pretty soon we'll have a policy. And the GOP and the media will whine and snivel that these ideas have been 'jammed' thru. And the trolls will attack the blogs and say Obama sold us all out...and Palin will tweet.

Posted by: SYSPROG on June 3, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

The fact is that America is ruled by corporations and that is not going to change.

A tiny, ultra-rich, increasingly hereditary minority of corporate oligarchs has an iron grip on this country and they are not going to let go.

So forget about government of, by and for "the people".

The best we can hope for is that a "kinder and gentler", "compassionate conservative" corporatist technocrat like Obama will try to get a somewhat better deal for us from the corporate ruling class.

Corporatist Democrats like Obama think that the American people should get a few scraps from the rich folks' table.

Republicans think that the American people should get a kick in the teeth.

That's a real difference.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 3, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Boy from asdfjkl on down, the Republicans and their 100% collusion with big Oil since the Iranians put Reagan in office to get rid of Carter's energy programme, are here to try to undermine Democratic and progressive confidence in the president.

It's pretty easy to claim that the president is in this or that corporation's pocket, without having to offer evidence of systemic corruption, such as was rife under the Cheney--oops I mean Bush administration.

But where is the headline about Obama forcing BP to pay to dredge the Louisiana coast? Where is the headline about his demanding the oil royalties not only be collected but be used to invest in non-fossil fuel based energy?

Did any of you read Paul Krugman's recent column about how all corporations HATE Obama? Really, take a look at it, and then read all these trollish letters and think about who might actually be writing them.

No, just keep trying to salt in comments you believe will undermine Obama's credibility with the left, but we know where you are really coming from, and it isn't from there.

Posted by: jjm on June 3, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Salazar at Interior, rubber-stamping permits right up to and beyond America's Chernobyl. Geithner at Treasury, arrogating the legislature's power of the purse to make bank bondholders whole at insupportable cost. Gates at DoD, instituting captive kangaroo courts to weigh evidence extracted in US torture gulags. By now you can tell Obama's lying cause his lips are moving. Cmon, you cannot possibly be stupid enough to fall for this governance shit. You think if you swallow it all you'll get a job with the administration or something? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Posted by: stimulate this, zzzip on June 3, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

So many comments, so little time to respond...

- Trolls: It takes a really "special" kind of person to spend so much time stirring shit up among people you so despise. Congratulations on achieving the "special" status you so crave! And, as usual, you provide ZERO solutions in your diatribes. Then again, solutions aren't really your forte; stirring shit up is. I guess everyone is good at something...

- Marginal Obama supporters: Welcome to reality, people! In politics and unlike in business, every process engaged must first be discussed. The U.S. cannot simply take over the spill, for so many reasons (most of which have been covered by Steve).

- Regulatory comments: You want better oversight? Let's talk about the nearly 300 APPOINTEES languishing on the sidelines because Republicans cannot allow them to receive confirmation votes. Let's then talk about how the regulatory system in place has been systematically taken down over the last, oh, 30 years or so - by Republicans. And then tell me how Obama can possibly overcome those two obstacles in less than 2 years. Do you have any ideas? Hello? Bueller? Ferris Bueller?

- Finally (for this comment anyway): I cannot overstate how happy I am to have Obama as our President. He is reasonable, measured, and calm in the face of a crisis. I shudder to think where this country would be with McCain/Palin leading the charge...

Posted by: Yulegar on June 3, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Man, I wish Obama had FDR's sense of rhythm! He could've strung out ''you're on your own'' a dozen more times into a permanent meme of contemporary political discourse.

Posted by: buddy66 on June 3, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama believed what he said, then his foot would be jammed up BP's butt with James Carville doing some pushing.

Posted by: Ugly Moe on June 3, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

No. We're not going to talk about your languishing appointees, we're going to talk about Salazar's No. 1 key hire Sylvia Vaca, BP whore, and her many sleeper-agent counterparts at Treasury who've been going to town on Bush's third term for many months now.

"I cannot overstate how happy I am to have Obama as our President!" This is really some highly rewarding self-expression thing for you, Isn't it? You really don't give a fuck what it amounts to. Why don't you just express your imaginary personal lifestyle with clothing or cellphones or something? Or cutting, or purging, if you really must fuck thing up so bad. They give you a forced choice of two kleptocratic puppets and you fall for it over and over and over.

Posted by: stimulate this, zzzip on June 3, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Don't really want to rain on the parade...

From today's WSJ:

Aside from the headline, which sucks and the desperate desire to quote every Rethug in sight, this is the sort of story we need to see a lot more of.

(BTW- the highlighted comments to Dowd's crappy column today are fantastic.)

JUNE 3, 2010
Obama Points a Finger at GOP

PITTSBURGH—President Barack Obama, facing political heat from both right and left over his response to the Gulf oil spill, blasted Republicans on Wednesday for what he said was a loosening of regulations on industry at the public's expense.

Mr. Obama did not blame the GOP for the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. But he attacked what he said was a Republican philosophy in the past decade that had "gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight."

Typically, Mr. Obama confines his most partisan attacks to Democratic fund-raisers. At one such event last week, he said Republicans were like a teenager who had driven the family car into a ditch and were now demanding the car keys back.

President Obama returns to the Oval Office from his trip Wednesday.

But Wednesday's comments came in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in which Mr. Obama also drew attention to the Gulf spill.
Mr. Obama said Republicans hold a "sincere and fundamental belief'' that government "has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges.'' The administration of President George W. Bush believed that "if you're a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else,'' Mr. Obama said.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the House Republican whip, replied that blaming Republicans would not solve the country's problems. "The same old politics that the president has been prone to engage in—like castigating opponents and mocking those who disagree with his policies—are not solving America's biggest problems," Mr. Cantor said in a statement.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that Mr. Obama was at fault for overly relying on government.
View Slideshow

Getty Images
Oil stained the big toe of William Barnett while he collected orange-colored tar balls on a public beach Wednesday in Dauphin Island, Ala.

"The Obama presidency thus far has been defined by an absolute trust in government," he said. "Certainly, Republicans believe in creating jobs and letting economic liberty work for all Americans. The administration certainly hasn't done that."

Also Wednesday, a White House official said that conversations are under way about delaying or canceling Mr. Obama's planned trip to Indonesia and Australia this month, already postponed once. The trip remains on the schedule, but officials are clearly nervous about the prospect of the president traveling overseas as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

The administration's public statements come as the oil spill has become a defining political issue in an election year—with television images of oil gushing into the ocean and washing ashore threatening to overtake the president's agenda.

White House officials, who have held their tongues while Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has criticized the administration, are beginning to express their frustrations. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in an interview, acknowledged the dissatisfaction of Gulf state residents, but he said that Louisiana was not implementing its own environmental protection plan.

"As happens in any of these events, you try to find somebody else to blame for your shortcomings," Mr. Gibbs said, pointing to the offshore berms—or man-made barrier islands—that Mr. Jindal has been demanding for weeks and received broad clearance Tuesday. "They've gotten clearance and payment to build one of these islands, but I don't think they've dropped any sand," Mr. Gibbs said.

Garret Graves, Mr. Jindal's adviser on coastal affairs replied, "Gibbs is totally uninformed on what the reality is on the ground down here." Another state official, Melissa Sellers, said the state has been trying to get the federal government to hold BP accountable to build the first sand berm, and that BP had yet to give the state funding to begin the work. "We don't want the federal government to make excuses for BP. We want them to force BP to be responsible," she said.

In his speech, Mr. Obama used the oil spill to argue for congressional action on long-stalled, climate-change legislation, and for his own proposal to increase taxes on oil companies.

He called for "rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies, so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development."

In February, the Obama administration proposed eliminating tax breaks for the oil and gas industry worth $36.5 billion over the next decade. The changes would target U.S. subsidies for oil and gas production, many of them longstanding. The reason given at the time was that Mr. Obama had agreed with other world leaders to pare back policies that favor oil and gas production, in order to improve energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Obama also vowed to continue to press for climate-change legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions.
"The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,'' he said.

—Jonathan Weisman and Susan Davis contributed to this article.
Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com

Posted by: robert on June 3, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

@ Yulegar:

Like I said in my prior post, not a day goes by that I'm not thankful Obama is in the WH and not McCain.

I'm pretty confident NOONE on this thread (other than the obvious trolls) is implying that this situation would have been handled better by Grandpa and Caribou Barbie.

That said, all of the appointees in the world won't make a difference if the Sec. of Interior is not truly interested in defending the public interest. Glenn Greenwald makes a devastating case against Salazar today (http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/), noting that

"Salazar hired Sylvia B. Vaca for the position of deputy administrator for land and minerals management. Who is Vaca? She's a former BP Executive who is the classic case of the revolving-door sleaze that runs the Federal Government on behalf of the industries it purportedly regulates. She was an Interior Department official during the Clinton administration, and then -- when the GOP took over -- she went to BP where she "held several senior management positions with the company," then went back to the Interior Department under Salazar."

Besides, if Congress was holding up critical SoI/MMS nominees, Obama should have made recess appointments. It's all a matter of political will and priorities. And don't hand me that line about not being able to tackle multiple problems at once. A 5-minute conversation with Salazar, instructing him to (i) clean house at MMS, (ii) go after the worst offenders (BP) and (iii) listen to industry critics, should have done the job.

The Dept. of Interior and the EPA are EXECUTIVE regulatory agencies. Other than confirming appointees, the Obama administration sets the priorities and objectives. What has become clear is that Obama, at the very least, was extremely hesitant to take on the oil industry to protect the environment.

He can change that, but his feet will have to be held to the fire. I don't see that happening if we insist on wearing rose-colored glasses.

Posted by: bdop4 on June 3, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

On President Kucinich's watch, none of this would have happened.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 3, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

the media seems to have largely deemed it unimportant

the speech ... made one of the more pointed critiques of the Republican Party we've heard in a while

I wonder if those facts are related as far as the so-called "liberal media" is concerned?

Posted by: Gregory on June 3, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

The slow realization of millions, is that we can't let hydrocarbons rule our lives.

Well, not quite.

We can still have hydrocarbons, but they can come mostly from sustainable sources instead of deep layers inside the earth.

Obama will ride the sustainability wave.

I'm not just talking about solar panels, electric cars, windmills, but bio-energy.

The oil mess lets us all pause.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on June 3, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

You go Yulegar. Very nice.

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