Did President Obama have some political capital burning a hole in his pocket? Is he justifiably optimistic about his digits following his signing the Affordable Care Act into law, completing an arms control deal with Russia, and wrapping up the week visiting the troops in Afghanistan?
How much will be spent on the Obama announcement of expanded oil drilling off American shores? The White House announcement is certain to be received by progressives and Republican strategists alike as a kick to the genitals. Both are, incidentally, still recovering from previous blows.
Progressives, understandably, already feel taken advantage of by the Obama administration. With the exclusion of a proper discussion of a single payer framework and dropping the public option from what turned out to be a right-of-center reform bill, Obama’s left flank has been unable to fully enjoy its president’s victory.
And like the preemptive single payer concession, the announcement of increased exploration for off shore drilling has come without conditions attached. Does the White House expect something in return for volunteering what Republicans have demanded in the past? Not necessarily.
Steve Benen republished an e-mail from a Hill staffer offering insight into the White House’s reasoning:
Obama preempts the other side’s most resonant arguments, which forces them to come up with more and more extreme claims in order to differentiate themselves. In the end, he occupies the reasonable middle ground and his opponents are Palinized…
[O]f course, if there was any reason to believe that Republicans would engage in normal negotiation/compromise, then I see why holding this back and trading it for support of a broader package would make sense. But does anyone really think there are Republicans to negotiate with on this stuff? And if Republicans do come to the table, Obama still has plenty of room to give, including by simply agreeing to sign a law that makes proposals like this a matter of statute, not executive discretion.
While those who find it foolish for Obama to expect anything in return for his gesture deserve some sympathy, it can’t be ruled out… Yet.
So far, Republican lawmakers have been varied in their response. House Minority Leader John Boeher (R-OH), predictably, offered his standard incredulous reaction, but others were more cautious. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and James Inhofe (R-SD) found Obama’s announcement ‘encouraging.’
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) also offered a mildly friendly assessment. Graham is also a co-signer to comprehensive energy conservation and climate change reform legislation, presently being negotiated in the Senate, which is almost certainly a motivating factor behind Obama’s drilling announcement.
Though he remains the sole Republican attached to the effort, his mere association with it provides energy legislation a different political dynamic than health care reform. This, however, will provide little comfort for progressives.
As for me, I’m apprehensive about the announcement, but I recognize the political wisdom of it. In other words, I’m on the fence.
After an initial negative reaction, mostly because American reliance on oil, foreign or otherwise, for its transportation needs is unsustainable. Conversely, I’m also well aware of our history, a cursory study of which reveals Americas’ highly entrenched oil culture, more than a century in the making.
Often forgotten in the heated environmental debate: the most hardened advocates for the reduction of greenhouse gasses will recall that they likely fancied some sexy, gasoline burning, sports car at some point during their youth. And though their present day activism is undeniably justified, a wide swath of the American political center has yet to move beyond such youthful inclinations. It’s an unfortunate political reality which, no doubt, informs Obama’s decision to expand oil exploration.
In closing, consider this: Is it politically wise to scoff at people chanting, “Drill Baby Drill!” — a popular Republican campaign rallying cry, rendered useless by Obama’s offshore drilling announcement — or is it better to understand what’s behind that impulse and act accordingly?
Obama seems to be doing the latter – He’s speaking beyond the lawmakers, themselves, targeting their constituents. That’s particularly true of those on the right, finally waking to the fact that the president is a pragmatist, not an ideologue.
It’s a gamble, to be sure: a political bet that there is more to be gained by the administration’s pursuit of a decidedly conservative policy than there is to be lost by once again brushing aside his progressive supporters. Lacking further detail about Obama’s announcement – what’s in the Senate legislation that progressives won’t find objectionable, for example – makes it difficult to pass judgment at present.
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