Saturday, August 02, 2008

Oily Pandering to the Voters

In an interview yesterday with the St. Petersburg Times Barack Obama "offered encouraging words Friday for a bipartisan energy plan that would permit oil drilling within 50 miles of Florida's west coast."
Obama commended the self-styled "Gang of 10" — five Democrats, five Republicans — for their cooperation and broad plan.

Obama didn't specifically endorse the bill, but his willingness to consider more oil drilling represents a significant change in position. And it dramatically alters prospects for the bill.

"My attitude is that we can find some sort of compromise," Obama told the Times shortly after talking with voters at Gibbs High School. "If it is part of an overarching package, then I am not going to be rigid in preventing an energy package that goes forward that is really thoughtful and is going to really solve the problem."

Huffington Post says these "encouraging words" represent a shift "from his previous opposition to expanded offshore drilling." That's far too strong.

Obama is a thoughtful man who ordinarily chooses his words carefully. Too carefully, some might say. A "willingness to consider" isn't the same thing as outright endorsement. But in this era of the Gotcha Sound Bite, it will be received by a grateful media rather too readily like the fine distinctions Bill Clinton drew over the definition of "sex."

What is not being reported as widely are the deep reservations Obama articulated in the same interview about the drilling 'compromise':
"Like all compromises, it also includes steps that I haven't always supported," Obama conceded. "I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact."
In context, Obama's full remarks make it clear that he knows drilling off the coast isn't smart economics, energy, or environmental policy. As the St. Pete Times also reports:
In Friday's interview, Obama reiterated his belief that "we are not going to drill our way out of this problem. ... We have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves; we use 25 percent of the world's oil."

The only immediate effect of the latest oil drilling 'compromise' would be to appease Americans whom polls show are -- as National Public Radio is reporting this morning -- frustrated, frightened, and angry over escalating gas prices.

Some will conclude that Obama is just playing politics. But is it "good" politics?

At a time when Barack Obama is still trying to "define" himself, the "sound bite" heard 'round Teevee Land will discourage many who are hoping for someone smarter, more honest, and more thoughtful than the current occupant of the White House, or our own worthless congressman in Northwest Florida, or for that matter John McCain -- who never met a drilling rig he didn't think would look great on Pensacola Beach.

And what's with picking Florida as the venue for Obama to announce he's "open" to considering drilling off the eastern Gulf coast? What's next for the candidate of "change"? Will he diss ethanol in Des Moines? Trash mass transit in Portland? Announce he's "willing to consider" prohibition of wine drinking in Napa Valley?

Whether he was being too clever by half or not, Obama did real damage yesterday in one respect no one is talking about. He not only let the soundbite slip out that enables the media to further tarnish his image as a candidate for change, but he undercut fellow Democratic Senator Bill Nelson within his own senatorial caucus.

Nelson, to his credit, has been a courageous realist when it comes to drilling proposals. As he has pointed out repeatedly, and again told the St. Petersburg Times on Friday:
Fifty miles off the coast would cut the heart and the lungs out of the United States military, because the largest testing and training area for the Department of Defense in the world is the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida. ... That's something he needs to know.

A U.S. Energy Department study has found it will take years before gas and oil from the eastern gulf would come online, and the impact on prices would likely be negligible.

After Obama's remarks in the interview, Nelson now has to save face by falsely claiming that Obama needs to be educated "on the repercussions of drilling 50 miles off the coast." That, too, is nonsense, as the full interview with the St. Pete paper shows.

Obviously, Obama knows what's what. Nelson knows that Obama knows. Yet, both of them are dissembling!

Might it have been smarter politics for Obama to come to Florida, reaffirm his principled opposition to drilling, and stand strong with fellow senator Bill Nelson? That kind of honesty would give us real Hope that Change is possible.

8-02 pm
Saturday, Obama is rejecting media suggestions that he has changed his position against drilling off the Florida coast. From ABC-TV, where the headline writers don't read the copy:
Today, at a press availability in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Obama said that his comments weren’t a shift.

“This wasn’t really a new position. What I’m saying is that we can’t drill our way out of the problem,” he told reporters. “And if we can come up with a genuine bi-partisan compromise in which I have to accept some things I don’t like, or the Democrats have to accept some things that they don’t like, in exchange for actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, then that is something I am open to.”

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