Joe Romm seems to think Obama’s public support for drilling is smart politics, getting something for nothing. Romm is one of the smartest policy guys out there, but I think he has missed a key point on the politics here.

Supporting drilling is a way of reaching out to low-information voters. But low-information voters don’t make up their minds based on policy details; they make up their minds based on symbolism and perception of candidate gestalt. For Obama to say “Drilling does not do any good in the long run or the short run, but I’ll support it as part of a political deal” does not convey good symbolism or make him “feel” like a good candidate. It looks weak; it looks like pandering. It’s not going to impress drilling supporters any more than drilling opponents.

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But isn’t this a valid response to the “Gang of 10” offer to put renewables and efficiency on the table in return for support of drilling, nuclear, and “clean coal”? I’m not sure that accepting such an offer would be good politics if it was really on the table. But the fact is the “Gang of 10” proposal is not a valid offer; it is classic used-car-lot negotiation. The “Gang of 10” does not speak for the majority of Republicans in either the House or Senate. It does not speak for John McCain. It’s the old car-dealer trick where the person you are negotiating with says, “Would you be interested in X?” If you say “sure,” the negotiator says “Well, let me run it past the boss,” and then comes back and says, “No, he won’t accept that.” And suddenly the deal your opponent proposed has become your offer, and the negotiations move on from the changed baseline that was never your idea.

I really don’t think there is a politically smart tactic for progressives that includes supporting drilling. But maybe there is. Baby, this ain’t it!

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