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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on April 1st, 2010

…President Obama once had a different position on offshore drilling. Here’s a clip of candidate Obama’s statement on the subject, on June 20, 2008:

My transcript of his remarks follows.  Given President Obama’s reversal on the subject, candidate Obama’s criticism of McCain’s reversals seem even more hypocritical than his one-time environmentalism:

But what wouldn’t do a thing to lower gas prices is John McCain’s new proposal, a proposal adopted by George Bush as well, to open up Florida’s coastline to offshore drilling. In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence in this campaign, Senator McCain once had a different position on offshore drilling, and it’s clear why he did: it would have long term consequences for our coastlines, but no short term benefits, since it would take at least ten years to get any oil.

Well, the politics may have changed, but the facts haven’t. The accuracy of Senator McCain’s original position has not changed. Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today. It would not lower gas prices tomorrow. It would not lower gas prices this year, it would not lower gas prices five years from now. In fact, President Bush’s own energy department says that we won’t see a drop of oil from his own proposal until 2017. And in fact you wouldn’t see any full production out of any oil drilling off the coast until 2030. It would take a generation to reach full production, and even then, the effect on gas prices will be minimal at best.

Let me just repeat: John McCain’s proposal, George Bush’s proposal, to drill offshore here in Florida and other places around the country would not provide families with *any* relief this year, next year, five years.

Believe me if I thought there was any evidence at all that drilling could save people money who are struggling to fill up their gas tanks by this summer, by this year, or even the next few years, I would consider it. But it won’t. John McCain knows that. The fact is Senator McCain’s decision to team up with George Bush on offshore drilling violates the bipartisan consensus that we’ve had for decades that has protected Florida’s pristine coastline from drilling.

And just like Senator McCain’s gas tax holiday gambit, this is a proposal that would only worsen the situation overall, and put off needed investments in clean renewable energy. It’s not the kind of change the American people are looking for. They’re looking for leadership that moves this country forward, and actually offers real solutions to the serious problems that we face. That’s why I’ve unveiled an aggressive comprehensive energy policy that raises fuel standards, invests $150 billion dollars in clean, affordable, renewable sources of energy, a policy that promotes realistic energy conservation.

When President, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts. That’s how we can protect our coastline, but still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good. That may not poll well; I understand that Senator McCain may have looked at the polls and said the people might buy drilling, they might buy a gas tax holiday, but my job is not to go with the polls, my job is to tell the American people the truth about what’s going to work when it comes to our long term energy future and how we can provide support to American families. That’s what I intend to do as President.

Chris Bowers of “OpenLeft” analyzed the politics of Obama’s 180 on oil drilling yesterday, pointing out that the opened areas (Dept. of Interior map, announcement) correspond neatly to states with “Conservadem” senators who’ve pushed for drilling.  Bowers concludes:

Politics is more a popularity contest than it is a battle of ideas or wills, and right now President Obama is easily the most popular person in politics among the Democratic and progressive rank and file.  The members of Congress, who can effectively push back against moves like these are those who are more popular among their constituents than President Obama.  The same goes for the green groups: their ideals, and their leaders, need to be more popular among their memberships than President Obama in order to effectively push back.

There are not many organizations like that right now (maybe Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth), and there might not be any progressive members of Congress for who whom that is true.  Until that changes, the Obama administration will continue to be able to make right-wing deals with Conservadems, and then do some hippie punching afterward, indefinitely.

One way to punch back will be to hold Obama’s own eloquence against him. In June of 2008, he not only made the case against offshore drilling, but the case against flip-flopping on offshore drilling for supposed political advantage.  So I wish the press corps would ask Obama something like this:

“Mr. President — during the election you promised to support a public option, a moratorium on whaling, a moratorium on offshore drilling, [Gitmo closure, military tribunals if that likely comes to pass]. In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence — to use your words about McCain during the campaign — you’ve reversed those positions as president. Those positions were part of the basis of your support as the election campaign progressed, and the vote count on Election Day. Rather than discuss each issue, sir, what is the effect on democracy itself of such reversals? Should voters simply expect elected candidates to reverse any position they told voters and volunteers they would take? Or are voters right to feel betrayed, defrauded, and uncertain what stake they have in you or in this country’s system of government?”

=====
NOTE: From the Obama Biden position paper “Promoting a Healthy Environment” (.PDF): “He fought against offshore drilling in the U.S. Senate, and he supports maintaining current moratoriums on new offshore oil and natural gas drilling.” His comments on global warming also ring hollow now that he supports getting more carbon out of the ground and burning it: “We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. We are already breaking records with the intensity of our storms, the number of forest fires, the periods of drought. By 2050 famine could force more than 250 million from their homes . […] The polar ice caps are now melting faster than science had ever predicted. […] This is not the future I want for my daughters. It’s not the future any of us want for our children. And if we act now and we act boldly, it doesn’t have to be.”
UPDATE, 4/1: OK, I’m reading (via a Facebook comment by (e)Robin) that Obama backtracked as early as August ’08 on offshore oil drilling.  I don’t remember noticing that at the time — no record of it on this blog anyhow — but I should also note I was volunteering for Obama despite flip-flops I definitely
had noticed, like on the FISA Amendment Act provision giving telecoms immunity for going along with Bush administration lawbreaking.
UPDATE, 4/2: David Dayen (“firedoglake”): He has made investments in solar and wind (and offshore wind may be a part of this exploration), sure, but he also flipped on drilling way back in August 2008, in the middle of the Presidential campaign. This announcement merely codifies that wish for an “all-of-the-above” energy solution. He has always supported clean coal, and corn-based ethanol fuels, and nuclear energy plants like Exelon; nothing new there. In fact, those elements often get MORE attention in Obama speeches than solar and wind. In short, he IS the midwestern coal-and-ethanol-state swing vote that he’s been courting. So why wouldn’t he go ahead and add drilling to the list as well?

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