America

President Barack Obama's Gulf Speech Trailed By Questions

Now that President Barack Obama has given his big oil spill speech, his first address from the Oval Office, it is trailed by too many questions to list, the biggest being: "When will the oil permanently stop flowing from BP's broken oil well?"

But here are some other questions: If you're a Gulf Coast resident who depends on the Gulf for your livelihood, did he speak to your deepest fears? And do you have more confidence in the federal response now than you had before the speech?

I don't know the answers to those questions, looking at this crisis from far outside the Gulf.

But those of us who aren't should try to put ourselves in the minds fishermen who haven't been able to go out to get a catch for weeks and who face losing boats, trucks or houses.

If we were in that situation, would Obama's Tuesday night speech buoy our spirits? Or is that too much to ask of one speech as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf?

The president did try to speak to these concerns when he said:

You know, for generations, men and women who call this region home have made their living from the water.  That living is now in jeopardy.  I’ve talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don’t know how they’re going to support their families this year.  I’ve seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers – even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected.  I’ve talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists will start to come back.  The sadness and anger they feel is not just about the money they’ve lost.  It’s about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.

I refuse to let that happen.  Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.

Beyond compensating the people of the Gulf in the short-term, it’s also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region.  The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that has already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.  And the region still hasn’t recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  That’s why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

The escrow fund may do the trick.

But how soon will all that start pouring out of the fund? How soon will the paychecks be cut that allow fishermen and restaurant owners to meet their notes? Was there anything in the speech to give people in serious straits enough hope that they won't lose all they've worked for because of this spill? Those are some of the obvious questions. And the lack of answers has to be part of the nightmare for the people of the Gulf.

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