Presidential historians (pre)assess Obama speech





...Before Obama's first Oval Office address, historians were taking the measure of what might be possible for the president.

"The first thing I hope he accomplishes Tuesday night is to make very clear to the American public the dimensions of this catastrophe — the feel, the smell, the touch of it," says Joseph Persico, a presidential historian and former speechwriter for Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

"What I also hope is that he sends the message that we're fed up and we're not going to take it anymore," says Persico, who wants to see "less of the law professor and more of the outraged leader."

It's a criticism that has been repeatedly leveled at the characteristically contained president as the disaster has continued, and as reports emerged about BP's past safety problems, its low estimates of the leak's dimensions, and a perception that the company — not the administration — was driving the leak response.

"It was pretty obvious by Week 4 that delegating to BP was not working," says presidential historian Lara Brown, "and the administration was getting blamed." It's still difficult to believe, she adds, that president hasn't yet met with BP's CEO (Obama's face-to-face with Hayward is scheduled for Wednesday)....

"When something like this happens, Americans say to themselves, 'if I were president, this is what I would do,'" says Brown, a Villanova University professor. "Most of it is about rolling up your sleeves and digging into the problem while marshaling as much command and control of the government as a president can."...


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