administration's response to the BP oil spill, President Obama made several notable media appearances in recent weeks — touring the Gulf region, holding a White House news conference and talking tough on the "Today" show.With columnists and pundits critiquing the
But in a few hours, in his first address — broadcast Tuesday night across all the major networks — Obama takes the White House's public response to another level. Democratic and Republican political consultants tell Yahoo! News that an Oval Office address can be one of the most effective uses of presidential stagecraft — underscoring the historical significance of the ongoing disaster.
"He's showing the country that he's putting the whole force of his presidency behind this crisis," said Paul Begala, a Democratic consultant and CNN analyst.
"As an old White House hand, I understand the power of this symbolism," added Begala, who was an adviser to President Clinton. "And believe me, it's intentional."
That symbolism isn't lost on strategists on the other side of the aisle.
Public Strategies Vice Chairman Mark McKinnon, who handled media strategy for George W. Bush's two presidential campaigns, said that by speaking from the Oval Office, Obama is communicating "that the oil spill is more important than any issue he's faced yet."
"When you consider the economic meltdown, escalation in Afghanistan and health care, that's saying a lot," McKinnon said.
As for why Obama's giving his first Oval Office address now, two months after the rig explosion, McKinnon said that "the timing may be just right" because "everyone's patience is exhausted."
[New poll shows most now disapprove of Obama's handling of the spill]
The decision to speak from the Oval Office was a recent one. The Washington Post reported Friday that White House aides didn't expect him to address the spill from that venue. News broke over the weekend that the White House asked the broadcast networks for time Tuesday night to carry the speech.
Questions about the significance of Obama's first Oval Office address being devoted to the oil spill came up Monday aboard Air Force One en route to Gulfport, Miss.
"What we're seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of which our country has never seen before," said Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, "so the response has been enormous, the assets and the full power of the federal government has been brought to bear here, and so talking directly with the American people about what we're doing to address this crisis and what we're going to be doing moving forward is very important to the president right now."
Obama clearly hasn't been in a rush to use the historic setting.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidential historian at Towson University outside Baltimore, tells Yahoo! News that his recent predecessors had already spoken from the Oval Office by this point in their presidencies.
After 16 months on the job, Ronald Reagan had given five Oval Office addresses, on topics ranging from economic recovery to instability in Poland to Christmas. George H.W. Bush had addressed the country on national drug control strategy and military action in Panama by this time in his tenure. Bill Clinton had given four Oval Office addresses. And George W. Bush had given one, after the attacks of 9/11.
Kumar noted that technological improvements made during the Clinton administration now allow presidents to broadcast more easily from various locations in the White House. During George W. Bush's first 16 months, the president made key addresses — which past chief executives might have been held in the Oval Office — from the Treaty Room (strikes against Al Qaeda) and Cross Hall (proposing a Department of Homeland Security).
Even though today's presidents have more options, Kumar said that selecting the Oval Office is "significant" and the public still sees it as an "important message coming from the president and that they should stop and listen."
"I think the reason to choose an Oval Office address now is because there are questions about his management style," she added. "And I think when you speak from the Oval Office, you speak as the chief executive, as a person who has command of implementation and command of the facts of what's going on."
Democratic consultant Bob Shrum doesn't agree that Obama needs an Oval Office address to show he's maintaining CEO-like control, citing polls showing the president's approval rating holding steady despite Beltway pundits firing at his management style.
Shrum said the Oval Office is a fitting venue to address the oil spill because of its historic use "at times of great national challenge, great national triumph and great national sorrow."
[Photos: Haunting images of the oil disaster]
"At that level, it's a very powerful subliminal signal that he's talking to the whole country," Shrum said. "When you do that, the speech has to measure up."
— Michael Calderone is the media writer for Yahoo! Ne