On Monday, I criticized Barack Obama for reversing his stand on offshore drilling. Obama had indicated that he was willing to support a bipartisan compromise crafted by the â€œGang of 10â€³ (a group of five Democratic and five Republican senators), even though it includes limited offshore drilling.
Now that I’m one week older and wiser, I’d like to eat my words.
Obama’s declared rationale for reversing his stand was the following:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Friday he would back limited offshore drilling as part of a broader energy package that attempted to bring down gas prices and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Obama dropped his blanket opposition to any expansion of offshore drilling and signaled support for a bipartisan compromise in Congress aimed at breaking a deadlock on energy that includes limited drilling.
â€œMy interest is in making sure weâ€™ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,â€ Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post during a tour of Florida.
â€œIf, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage â€” I donâ€™t want to be so rigid that we canâ€™t get something done,â€ Obama told the newspaper.
But on Wednesday, Sam Stein at The Huffington Post offered an argument that I find quite appealing: by supporting the Gang of 10′s bipartisan bill — the New Energy Reform Act of 2008 — Obama may have adroitly left John McCain between a rock and a hard place.
The key provisions of the bipartisan bill are:
* Opens additional drilling areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and allows Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to elect to permit drilling off their coasts. Existing bans on drilling off the West Coast, including in the ANWR, would be preserved.
* Dedicates $20 billion to R&D on alternative fuels for motor vehicles.
* Extends a series of tax credits and incentives, such as for the purchase of hybrid vehicles.
* Funds the above â€” at total cost of about $84 billion â€” by closing tax loopholes for petroleum companies, in conjunction with licensing fees.
The McCain campaign has not only criticized Obama for endorsing the bill — on grounds of flip-floppery — but McCain has opposed the bill. Specifically, he opposes that last provisionâ€”financing the bill by closing tax loopholes for Big Oil.
And by opposing the bill, McCain has left himself looking very hypocritical on a matter that voters seem to care about more than anything else right now:
McCain has said he wants lawmakers to reach some kind of bipartisan compromise, reach a consensus, and pursue a variety of energy policy options. The Gang of 10â€™s bill, while clearly imperfect, does just that. And yet, McCain opposes the measure, because itâ€™s fiscally responsible and gets additional funding from Big Oil.
The more this bipartisan compromise gains attention, the worse itâ€™s going to be for McCain.
The DNC is already turning on the heat:
On Tuesday evening, the DNC put out a press release calling McCain hypocritical for lamenting the lack of “bipartisan compromises,” while “currently fighting a bipartisan compromise on [energy].”
The more attention this gets, the more McCain is going to look like not just one huge hypocrite but an obedient stooge of Big Oil, obstructing the very policies he claims we need to urgently implement, just to protect Big Oil’s record profits. Which, of course, feeds right into Obama’s well-conceived â€œAfter one president in the pocket of big oil, we canâ€™t afford anotherâ€ line of attack.
Nate Silver suggests that this amounts to “a potential checkmate scenario sitting on the board for Barack Obama”.
That’s probably too strong. If McCain has any sense, he’ll avoid the checkmate by just blithely reversing his position on the Gang of 10′s bipartisan bill (as he has done 72 times before without getting any significant grief for it in the national media). But it still gives Obama some good campaign ad fodder, undercutting McCain on what he’s trying to turn into a key campaign issue. And, as Sam Stein argued, McCain will run the risk of “(incurring) the wrath of anti-tax crusaders”.
So, checkmate or not, Obama may have maneuvered McCain into a position where Obama can only win and McCain can only lose. If that was the thinking here, it sounds like pretty good stuff to me.