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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Echoes of the Past in the President's Speech

Few public policy problems are entirely novel. Presidents often react to them in similar ways and use similar rhetoric to explain their actions. The Gulf oil disaster is a case study. In his speech last night, President Obama echoed President Nixon, who had to deal with a major oil spill (off Santa Barbara) at the start of his presidency and then grappled with energy shortages toward the end.

Getting Scientific Advice
Obama: That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

Nixon: I have today directed the President's Science Adviser, Dr. DuBridge, to bring together at the earliest possible time a panel of scientists and engineers. They will recommend to me ways and means in which the Federal Government can best and most rapidly assist in restoring the beaches and waters around Santa Barbara. They will also submit their views as to how best to prevent this kind of sudden and massive oil pollution.
The Legacy of the Past
Obama: So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling.

Nixon: As all of you are aware, the Secretary of the Interior yesterday issued regulations that cover this area and also offshore drilling generally that are far more stringent than any that ever existed before. That only indicates that the previous ones in the past have been inadequate.
The War and the Moon
Obama: The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny -– our determination to fight for the America we want for our children.

Nixon: The lessons of the Apollo project and of the earlier Manhattan Project are the same lessons that are taught by the whole of American history: Whenever the American people are faced with a clear goal and they are challenged to meet it, we can do extraordinary things.