There are striking similarities and differences between the press statement issued by President Obama on Friday in response to the Gulf oil spill and George H.W. Bush's news conference in the wake of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill more than 20 years ago, according to footage from CSPAN's archives.
The tone and the message of each are remarkably parallel: full attention being paid to the economic and environmental damages of the spill, demands that the company responsible be held to account, and a sense that all hands are on deck for the clean-up and recovery process.
ON THE ISSUE OF PRIMARY CONCERN:
BUSH: "Actions started immediately. The big thing was to stop the hemorrhaging and get that ship moved."
OBAMA: "There's oil leaking and we need to stop it, and we need to stop it as soon as possible."
ON FUTURE DRILLING:
BUSH: "I don't think that you compromise the genuine national security interests of this country and I don't think you that you can predicate a sound national energy policy on an aberration that seemed to have taken place in Prince William sound... I think we have got to do what i said in this statement. do everything humanly possible here and elsewhere, on land and on sea, to see that we have the soundest environmental practice and reserve in terms of putting out fires or stemming the flow of oil that leaks out or gets away. But I'm not going to suggest that because of this we should rethink a policy of trying to get this country less dependent on foreign oil.
OBAMA: "[D]omestic oil drilling continues to be one part of an overall energy strategy that now includes more clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency than at any other time in our history. But it's absolutely essential that going forward we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again.
ON OIL COMPANY LIABILITY:
BUSH" "As I said Exxon is liable and they will continue to be liable... I think Exxon has assumed liability and I'm not going to stand here and suggest otherwise."
OIBAMA: "I know BP has committed to pay for the response effort, and we will hold them to their obligation."
The major difference: Bush took questions. And was subsequently asked about a number of unrelated topics ranging from the Palestine Liberation Organization, Soviet relations, the minimum wage, and the Oliver North trial. When the press kept veering away from the topic, going on about the Hondurans and Oliver North, Bush bemoaned: "This is an environmental briefing here. And we are concerned about the oil spill!"
The whole video of Bush is worth a watch, and not just for a nostalgic sense of how much access the White House press corps once had, or for the footage of Dick Cheney peeking over Bush's shoulder. But also for the realization that for all the talk at the time of Exxon agreeing to full liability, the company eventually went through excessive and successful court maneuvering to get out of paying maximum punitive damages.
At the very least, it gives some guidance and perspective for how both the Obama White House and BP are handling the current crisis
BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE:
OBAMA PRESS STATEMENT: