Obama in the Oval
Like most political observers, I will be tuned in at 8 p.m. tonight to watch President Obama’s 20-minute primetime address on the BP Gulf oil spill. Given how highly visible Obama has been over the first 18 months of his presidency, it is a little surprising that this will be his first formal address from the Oval Office. There has been a lot of talk among political observers over the past few days that this speech may be the president’s last best opportunity to reset the largely negative political narrative of his handling of the crisis. We shall see whether the symbolism and gravitas of the setting are sufficient to accomplish that task tonight, or whether there truly are rhetorical limits to the reach of the president’s bully pulpit.  An evening televised presidential address from the Oval Office, if appropriately timed and not over-utilized, is about as powerful as that rhetorical leadership gets.
I’ve also heard the idea floated that Obama may once again press Congress for a renewed push on comprehensive energy legislation. Those of you who listened to the recent New Hampshire Public Radio show on this topic know that I don’t think this kind of legislation is particularly likely at the moment. So, I’m not sure that Obama should waste many of his precious 20-minutes jawboning Congress on the issue, as I don’t think it will make much of a difference in the legislative politics currently surrounding it. He should focus on the immediate task of convincingly detailing how both BP and the federal government will move forward to cap the well, clean up the mess, and deal with all of the economic dislocation. That would be plenty.

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