Whither goest thou, Barack?
Posted by sanityinjection on August 4, 2008
I’m trying to understand this one. Senator Obama recently announced his new energy plan. While it is no suprise that the plan includes more support for hybrid cars and renewable energy initiatives, what *is* new is that it also calls for tapping the nation’s strategic oil reserve and recommends being open to the possibility of offshore drilling if it can be done in an environmentally responsbile way. These are new positions for Obama, who previously opposed them:
Now some will accuse Obama of flip-flopping on these issues for poitical gain. And certainly, with gas prices being what they are, it’s not hard to see how these changes could help Obama with undecided voters. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think it is also possible that Senator Obama is having a genuine reassessment of these policies based on the reality of the current situation. He’s been accused of a lot of things, but being stupid is not one of them. He knows that if he becomes President he is going to be the one taking the hits if the economy doesn’t improve, and it’s smart to leave his options open a little bit.
Others will accuse Obama of being a hypocrite for departing from liberal orthodoxy on the energy question. A good liberal after all, views oil (and all fossil fuels) as the spawn of Satan and would be happy to see gas prices go even higher in order to force the unwashed masses to start bicycling to work. But I do not see it as hypocrisy to acknowledge the undeniable need of the US economy for oil in the short term, while continuing to push for changes that will move us away from fossil fuels toward more sustainable, renewable, and clean energy sources in the long term. In fact, it’s the height of common sense. Furthermore, Obama’s announcement probably helped to drive the price of oil even lower in trading today, which means gas prices should continue to fall, for which we can all be thankful.
Here’s the part I can’t seem to figure out, though: At the very same time that Senator Obama is embracing the need for oil, he’s running a campaign ad accusing McCain of being a stooge for the oil companies. Reuters, in an astonishing display of attention to objective facts, points out that while McCain has certainly received more money from Big Oil than Obama, he voted against a 2005 bill that gave the oil companies billions in tax breaks. Obama voted *for* that bill:
Meanwhile, McCain has his own ad which compares Obama, probably unfairly, to celebutarts Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I guess the lesson here is that even the most principled of candidates (and I count McCain and Obama among that group) are not immune from the temptation to go negative when the stakes are the highest office in the land. And that’s disappointing. (The only silver lining is that Paris Hilton’s mother Kathy, who is my personal #1 suspect as the Anti-Christ, was ticked off by the McCain ad.)
Turning to pick on the GOP for a moment on oil, the House GOP members are currently staging a “talk-in” on the drilling issue. They want Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the House back into special session during its summer recess to vote on the drilling issue, so they are continuing to give speeches on the House floor to an amused press contingent even while the House is not actually in session. Good for them – this is not only a valid form of protest but an intelligent one.
However, the GOP congressmen are also threatening not to vote for the budget resolution in September if it contains an extension of the offshore drilling ban, effectively shutting down the federal government by denying it the funds it needs to operate. This I think is excessive. Republicans have already blocked action on some other bills in protest that they have not been allowed a stand-alone vote on the drilling issue. That is protest enough. It’s one thing to force a shutdown when the economy is healthy (as the GOP did in 1995 and was roundly criticized for so doing.) But when the economy is shaky, shutting down the federal government wipes out one of the economy’s biggest demand generators – the purchasing power of all the government agencies as well as their employees who will not be getting paid. That’s tantamount to economic hara-kiri, and you don’t have to be an unreconstructed Keynesian to understand that it’s a bad idea: