I don’t know how any sentient being could miss the obvious signs that if the gods care at all, they’re either testing us or not on our side. So its strange to hear the President of the United States tell an anguished, worried people facing destroyed livelihoods and desperate for leadership and a plan of action that prayer and faith are our best hope for stopping an ongoing catastrophe and preventing the next.

Let’s start from the end:

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. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Does anyone believe this catastrophe continues because of a lack of faith in a better future, a shortage of American strength and resilience?

Why don’t we start by assuming the America people can understand basic physics. They intuitively grasp that we can’t keep punching holes into highly pressurized formations three miles beneath the ocean and not expect at least one of them to blow up with catastrophic consequences and then be the devil to stop. They understand that if corporations engage in inherently dangerous but highly profitable activities, they’ll inevitably cut safety corners, ignore risks and cause a disaster that kills people and causes massive damages. People get that.

And now they can see and touch and smell the nauseating reality that the destruction this causes can be beyond anything they’ve been told, anything they’re willing to accept. They know they’ve been lied to, and it hasn’t stopped. So it would be helpful if the President stopped it.

In the understatement of the decade, the CEO of Exxon-Mobile told Congress today that "when these things happen, we are not well equipped to deal with them. . . . There will be damages occur."

So any statement a President or any leader would put before a public whose intelligence and judgment they respected would have at least these two parts:

(1) Here’s the plan for fixing the immediate crisis, and here are the risks it might not work and what we’ll do about that.

(2) And here’s my challenge for the future: "We don’t have to take this. But if we want something different, we have some very hard work to do, and we need to get on with it. Here is what we must do, and here are the people and the failed ideas that stand in our way. We have to fight them if we want a different future. And that’s what I propose to do; here’s my plan, and I want your support."

I don’t know why our President can’t say it that simply, but apparently it’s not his style, or not what he wants or believes, or maybe he and his advisers just don’t know what to say or do. But someone needs to tell him, and now, that calling the nation to faith and prayer is not a substitute for a plan and it’s not leadership. It’s a sop.

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The President’s Address to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill (transcript)

The President opened by reminding us we’re fighting three wars: an economic one against the deepest recession in 75 years; a military one against those we classify as terrorists; and a technological one against our dependence of energy sources that are inherently dangerous to extract, use, or dispose of.

What he didn’t say is that we’re making little or no progress in any of them, and that his Administration has virtually given up on the first and struggling with what to do about the second. It is any wonder he was so timid about the third?

He correctly tells us a drilling blowout at these depths is "testing the limits of human technology," but he still assures us — based on what? — we’ll soon capture 90 percent of the escaping oil. Does anyone believe that? And what of the oil already out there? He promises only that "we’ll fight this with everything we’ve got, for as long as it takes," and then help the Gulf and its people recover.

He tells us that from the beginning "the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history." Residents of the Gulf know this is false. They know BP is still in charge, still allocating resources, and the locals are furious at BP’s arrogance, secrecy and inattentiveness.

He says they have thousands of people and boats at work; locals know BP controls most of them, just as it’s deployed zillions of booms, but badly deployed and attended to both. He’s "authorized" 17,000 National Guard; locals know many haven’t been deployed.

The President could have acknowledged these failings and the justified anger and explained how he’ll change that. He didn’t. Instead he told locals to call if there’s a problem. But locals have been calling — to BP’s call centers — with little effect.

It will be interesting to hear local reactions to this part of the speech. My guess is many will feel let down. They should.

More on the energy challenge tomorrow.

John Chandley