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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Connecting Dots

In his Oval Office address tonight, President Obama has a sadly familiar task: to apportion responsibility for errors he had little to do with without himself looking like a buck-passer, and to connect discrete events and policies to the bigger picture.
It’s reasonably clear by now that by sheer repetition, the claim that the president has fumbled the BP oil spill in some significant way has sunk into media and public perceptions. Some of this, of course, is coming from people who are lifelong cheerleaders for offshore oil drilling, and who idolize Dick Cheney, who is probably more responsible for the policies that enabled this disaster than anyone else. But presidents do get blamed for things they didn’t do, so appearing large and in charge in the present and future must accompany any Obama effort to assign responsibility for why this happened in the first place.
Aside from that difficult task, the president must also connect the dots between the disaster and the path he wants the country to take on energy policy. While it may seem obvious to some of us why a carbon cap or tax of some sort is an appropriate response to yet another calamity associated with fossil fuel production, it’s not at all obvious to the public generally. And this is the same public, moreover, that never much bought the president’s arguments that health care reform was essential to the country’s economic future. So while it might not be that hard for Obama to rally support for tougher regulation of offshore drilling, it will be a much heavier lift to connect the disaster to the need for climate change legislation.
Fortunately, Obama has a booming twenty minutes to pull off this complex task, all the while appearing as “presidential” as possible. He will have no time to waste.

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