Word Spill

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, July 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

Word Spill


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Our Demosthenes is also Alibi Ike.

Our Demosthenes seems to regard the rule of strategic reticence as irrelevant to him. The rule: Do not speak unless you can improve the silence. He did not do that with his Oval Office speech. In it, to the surprise of no one who has been paying attention the last 17 months, he discerned in the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico a reason for a large and permanent increase in government taxation and supervision of American life on shore. The oil spill validates his passion for energy--or is it climate change?--legislation.

The news about his speech is that it is no longer news that he often gives bad speeches. This one, however, was almost magnificently awful.

The banality of his first sentence--"our nation faces a multitude of challenges"--was followed by trite war metaphors about "the battle" against oil "assaulting" our shores, for which "siege" he has a "battle plan." (Our government declares war promiscuously--on drugs, poverty, cancer, environmental problems, etc.--but never when actually going to war.) After Obama did what is de rigueur--he announced a new commission--he, as usual, attacked George W. Bush. (Chicagoan Obama resembles the fictional baseball player invented by Chicago's Ring Lardner--Alibi Ike.) Next, he resorted, yet again, to a clumsy and painfully familiar trope that would get him bounced from a junior-high-school debate tournament. He attacked a straw man: "Over the last decade, [the Minerals Management Service] has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility--a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves." Another banality--"oil is a finite resource"--introduced a weird lament about a problem he has aggravated: "We're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water." He and his party oppose drilling in the tundra of ANWR and in shallower coastal waters.

Then he borrowed his predecessor's silliness about our "addiction" to fossil fuels. Actually, we need energy for prosperity, we need fossil fuels because there are not and will not soon be sufficient substitutes, and "addiction" is not a synonym for "need."

Standing forthrightly against "inaction," he served notice against the blinkered and timid who lack his grit and vision: "The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. …

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