This was the inflection point in this crisis, we were told. This speech was the moment the President could take back control of a crisis that is nearly impossible to truly control.
It was not a failure, but it did little to give the sense of a shift in direction. Criticism and praise on content aside, the delivery left something to be desired. It was punchy, not eloquent–delivered in the President’s trademark staccato manner. That works for describing government action, but it takes soaring eloquence to rise above the situation. And that’s what we hoped to do tonight–to, even briefly, rise above it all.
The close of the speech had the makings of such a moment:
Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region’s fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It’s called “The Blessing of the Fleet,” and today it’s a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea, some for weeks at a time.
The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.
And still, they came and they prayed.
For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, “The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that he is with us always,” a blessing that’s granted “even in the midst of the storm.”
The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before, and we will surely know them again. What sees us through — what has always seen us through — is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it.
Tonight, we pray for that courage, we pray for the people of the Gulf, and we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.
But it was not such a moment. Listen to it. There was no build. There was no flow. And it didn’t lift us up. It left us–despite its potential–bogged down in our oily mess.
And that is a missed opportunity.