By NEMS Daily Journal
President Obama capped two days of intensive high-profile focus on the Gulf oil spill with an address to the nation Tuesday night. It included assurances that BP would be held to account and that the damaged Gulf Coast ecology and economy would be fully restored.
These are bold promises, and the political stakes are high in ensuring that they’re kept. Obama has come under criticism, some unfair and some probably merited, about both the substance and style of the administration’s response to the disaster that began with the deaths of 11 oil rig workers.
The president was clearly aiming for style points as he spent two days on the Gulf Coast, including a stop in Gulfport where he was greeted by Gov. Haley Barbour and local officials. It was a trip intended to reassure local residents and in turn to signal to the nation that the horrendous Deepwater Horizon leak hasn’t fouled everything.
The seafood is still safe and delicious, the president proclaimed after eating a Mississippi lunch of crab cakes and fried shrimp. People can still enjoy a vacation in the Gulf region, and that’s one of the best ways concerned people can help, he said.
These are small and seemingly obligatory gestures, but when any president speaks, people listen. Obama was essentially doing what Barbour has been unjustly criticized for – trying to help a coastal economy reeling as much from what people think is happening as what has actually occurred. That’s not the same thing as downplaying the significance of the disaster, as some critics have claimed.
If he has been slow to grasp the significance of the disaster in an area of the country with which he is largely unfamiliar – and which has been politically unfriendly to him – the president is now on the right track. While there will be intense debate over his call for the energy and climate change legislation that was already on the administration’s agenda, the other elements of his recovery plan should be welcomed across the political spectrum, including:
* Ensuring that BP makes whole businesses and individuals harmed by the disaster.
* Seeing to the complete cleansing of the water, beaches and marshlands of all oil residue and the full restoration of damaged areas.
* Establishing stricter regulation and oversight of deep-water drilling and response planning.
* Helping the seafood industry recover.
These are the basic ingredients of an appropriate response, and BP should carry the bulk of the financial burden.
The president has grasped the gravity of the situation and told the nation what needs to be done in response to this tragedy. Now it falls to him to make sure it happens.