I have to disagree with my friend Adam Bink on this one:
In other words, while I see headlines in other progressive media spaces “Obama flip-flops on drilling!!” and “which guy did we elect President again?!”, I see it less as a flip-flop than a validation of (a) a previously-held position and (b) that he is more of a Conservadem than many are willing to admit.
While Adam is correct to point out that then-candidate Obama pivoted on offshore drilling in the final months of the presidential campaign, he misses a few important points.
1. The piece he cites begins as follows: “Obama said he might support more drilling if it were paired with comprehensive energy conservation measures and alternative energy development.”
Obama’s announcement on offshore drilling this week was a standalone measure. It was not in fact “paired with comprehensive energy conservation measures and alternative energy development.” By taking this action without the accompanying positive measures, this is a step further in the wrong direction than what was signaled during the campaign.
And indeed, this is the bulk of the complaint from many progressive commentators. Joe Conason calls it “surrender, then negotiate” strategy. Matthew Yglesias doesn’t understand why Obama did this without getting anything in return. Steve Benen and Kevin Drum have similar concerns. While there would have been complaints on the substance of the policy either way — it is after all, extremely bad policy — they probably would have been more subdued if it wasn’t such a baffling move politically.
2. Adam writes, “Drilling has always been on the list of expendable issues.” This is simply not true. If Obama said anything prior to August 2008 indicating he was willing to budge on the issue, I haven’t seen it. From at least 2005 until August 2008 — after he had secured the Democratic nomination — Obama argued convincingly against offshore drilling repeatedly. Think Progress has several examples:
“The days of running a 21st century economy on a 20th century fossil fuel are numbered — and we need to realize that before it’s too late.”
“The truth is, an oil future is not a secure future for America.”
“We could open up every square inch of America to drilling and we still wouldn’t even make a dent in our oil dependency.” 9/15/05
“It would be nice if we could produce our way out of this problem, but it’s just not possible.” 2/28/06
“Instead of making tough political decisions about how to reduce our insatiable demand for oil, this bill continues to lull the American people into thinking that we can drill our way out of our energy problems.” 8/1/06
“Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.” 8/28/08
So yes, for the last 90 days of the presidential campaign, Obama expressed willingness to concede on offshore drilling. But for the previous 3+ years, throughout his Senate career and the long primary campaign, he argued against it over and over again. This is when all of us got to know Obama and what he stood for, and this is when Democrats selected him as their candidate for president.
In conclusion, I think it is perfectly reasonable for folks to express disappointment and outrage now that he has actually gone through with a 180 degree reversal on the issue. I’m not sure what any of us have to gain by pretending drilling was “always” an expendable issue or that this was exactly what he campaigned on.