Control Flow Logic and President Obama

Who is it that said “Be careful what you wish for?”  I want to know if everyone who voted for President Obama is happy with the President they got.  I think he is a very careful man who surrounds himself with careful people.  I believe these careful people ran a technical campaign that was designed to appear to promise things that the President himself never actually promised (most famously, his October 2, 2002, speech against the U.S. involvement in Iraq, in which he said he opposed “dumb wars” but not “all wars”).  It seems to me that this was a “fine print” and “read the contract” campaign and most people, in my experience, do not read the fine print.  Did you, people?  Did you read the fine print?

Now we have an oil spill in the Gulf of epic proportions.  This, less than two months after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a statement, on March 31, 2010, announcing that as part of a

comprehensive strategy for strengthening the nation’s energy security and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, the Obama Administration will expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, while protecting fisheries, tourism, and places off U.S. coasts that are not appropriate for development.

The strategy called for “expanded development and production throughout the Gulf of Mexico, including resource-rich areas of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that are currently under Congressional moratorium and closed to development.”

We now know that the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service went all soft and gooey when BP asked for permission to drill in the Gulf without permits and despite warnings that what did happen was likely to happen.  Litigation will ensue, people will resign (although not top people),  teeth will gnash, hair will be torn and nothing important will change.

Today, June 2, the President sent me and millions of his closest constituents an email from  “Carol Browner, The White House” with the subject line “Accountability for the Disaster in the Gulf.”  Here, in part, is what the President said:

If the laws on our books are insufficient to prevent such a spill, the laws must change. If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed. If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region.

In computer programming lingo, this kind of “if-then” statement is called a “control flow statement.”  According to a “Java” tutorial,

The if-then statement is the most basic of all the control flow statements. It tells your program to execute a certain section of code only if a particular test evaluates to true.

In rhetorical terms, an if-then statement gives the speaker maximum wiggle room.  Consider what the President could have said:

Clearly, the laws on our books are not sufficient to prevent such a spill because the spill occurred.  The laws must change.  Clearly, oversight was not adequate to enforce the laws that were on the books.  Oversight must be reformed.  Clearly, laws were broken, leading to death and destruction.  My solemn pledge is that those responsible, including those responsible in my Administration, will be brought to justice on behalf of all Americans, everyone harmed and indeed the planet herself.

Alas, the President said no such thing.  Instead, he said, by way of mouthpiece Carol Browner:

To be clear: BP is responsible for this oil spill, and we will make sure that BP and any other responsible parties pay not only for the cost of the cleanup, but also for the economic damages suffered by people living in the region whose livelihoods have been affected or destroyed by the spill. We will hold BP and other responsible parties accountable. And where government officials have been too cozy with the oil industry — a problem that goes back a decade — we will clean house.

Too little.  Too late.  Too bad.


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