The President Names a Better BP Watchdog

The president's speech was most noted for its martial themes, but I was struck by what he said about the abuses at the Minerals Management Service. Finally, Obama went on offense. He appointed a true watchdog, Mike Bromwich, to run it (Bromwich was a kick-ass Justice Department official under Bill Clinton) and outlined all of the MMS abuses short of the pornography and affairs with oil and gas reps that "regulators" were conducting.

Obama's shots at lax regulators under George W. Bush (he also indicted his own team for being too "slow") should help place the larger blame for the disaster where it belongs—with conservatives who see regulators as "partners" rather than "watchdogs." They "enabled" BP's abominable performance. The company had been cited for so many violations that true oversight by MMS would have shut down their deepwater operations long ago.

If Democrats have any sense at all, they will clobber Republicans who voted with industry. It's up to Obama and his allies to make "deregulation" a dirty word.

But the president's speech offered little hope for this. Why? Because he once again failed to use language that sticks in the mind. He said all the right things, but without memorable metaphors or catchphrases. His words are like elegant fast food, destined to wear off within hours. In this sense his disdain for soundbites is really starting to hurt him.

ALTER is the author of the new book The Promise: President Obama, Year One.