Triangulator in chief

by Brian Clarey

Last week President Obama announced his intention to expand exploration for oil and natural gas along US coastlines as part of a broad energy initiative. It’s not quite “Drill, baby drill!” but it’s close enough to discomfort the factions of Obama voters who cringed every time Republicans gathered to loose this particular chant.

So what, exactly, is the president doing? The fact is that the bit of recoverable oil in our coastal waters amounts in total to about 63 billion barrels, according to a Department of the Interior estimate. That’s enough, at present levels, to supply the US for nine years, and when measured against annual global consumption it’s short by about 30 billion barrels.

We said it then and we’ll say it now: Drilling for more oil is not a long-term solution to a problem that is reaching critical mass. Oil, while fairly abundant today, becomes less so each year. It is not a renewable resource. And fluctuations in its price have far-reaching effects across the global economy. If our nation’s energy plan was a stock portfolio, we would recognize that it’s time to diversify.

But Obama’s stance is an intriguing one, politically speaking, offering as it does a gaping opportunity for flip-floppery of the most opportunistic kind.

Staunch Obama supporters may be wondering: Am I now supposed to be for offshore drilling because I want the president to succeed? And many who belittled Sarah Palin’s campaign-trail party chant are now lining up reasons as to why this plan is different that that plan.

Likewise, those in favor of the obstructionist tactics being employed by House and Senate Republicans find themselves in a quandary: Do we still have to obstruct it if it’s something we like?

At worst, it’s yet another insult heaped upon Obama’s base, one more in a long chain of concessions and compromises and outright reversals that have already given many of his supporters genuine buyer’s remorse.

But at best, it’s a stroke of tactical genius. We suppose its possible that Obama, fresh off his healthcare victory, may have known that Republicans on the Hill were amassing a counterpunch against him and his party. Someone with that knowledge just might be tempted to co-opt a position first championed by the opposition as a way to test their collective will.

What is likely to happen is that Republicans will oppose the measure, arguing that it doesn’t go quite far enough to advance the wanton ravaging of our coastline in search of nine years’ worth of oil.

It’s exactly the same sentiment many on the left felt after the passage of the healthcare bill.

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