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Mar. 31 2010 - 3:54 pm | 557 views | 3 recommendations | 18 comments

The brilliant strategy behind Obama’s conservative energy policy

One of the reasons I don’t take most critics of Obama all that seriously is that he has run, in many ways – and even with a major progressive victory under his belt with healthcare reform – a fairly conservative administration in terms of foreign policy but also some domestic policy.  Take this post from Ezra Klein:

“I think the term ‘cap and trade’ is not in the lexicon anymore,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on CNBC this morning. Oh, and he said it while announcing that the Obama administration was opening new areas up to offshore oil drilling. This follows the decision to massively expand loan guarantees for nuclear plants. As far as anyone can tell, these concessions to conservative ideas on energy have not attracted Republican allies for the administration’s preferences on energy, and in fact, the center of this issue seems to be moving rapidly to the right.

There may be some brilliant strategy underlying all this, but no one in the administration has seen fit to explain what it is. I’d guess it’s that they can say, and show, they’re reaching out on the issue, but making these moves when the public isn’t paying attention to energy policy seems of questionable relevance to perceptions of partisanship when the debate eventually takes off. [emphasis added, EDK]

First off, Ezra is right to note that even these ostensibly conservative-friendly policies have not – and likely will not – earn Obama many Republican supporters. C’est la vie. Obama must realize by now that this is the case, and so he must not be doing this to earn conservative support.

So what is his brilliant strategy? And why do people on the left keep questioning it, even though time and again Obama is right?

I imagine the brilliant strategy in question is Obama facing reality and realizing that we are years and years away from developing – let alone implementing – a viable alternative energy solution in this country and we’d better find a way to get us to that point without relying as heavily on foreign oil producers. Whether that means increased drilling or some other way to make use of the fossil fuels available to us in order to develop the technologies of the future is the question we need to ask. Not a terribly riveting explanation, I know, but it makes sense. Increased nuclear energy production fits into the same game plan.

And unlike punitive measures such as cap and trade, more energy exploration (while at the same time working to develop better alternatives for the future) is a positive effort which might actually be good for the economy rather than a burden.

In other words, Obama is being smart as usual, and this won’t gain him friends on the right and will earn him plenty of exasperated sighs on the left as usual.


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  1. collapse expand

    I don’t think there’s much to the idea of Obama trying to “earn…many Republicans supporters.” 45.7% of the country, at the very least, will never vote for President Obama, or they wouldn’t have voted for the McCain/Palin-circus the first time around.

    But I bet if you poll the people who make up a large proportion of that 7% gap between the president and the people who voted the other way in ‘08…this move wouldn’t test so badly with them.

    And in electoral math, when you consider the job possibilities it creates for people in states that went blue like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, it makes even more political sense.

    In sheer economic terms, I don’t feel great about this. I suspect that absent a major hike in the price of oil and gas, a number of these new wells won’t be economically viable without considerable federal support. And thus we’ll be subsidizing 19th century energy technologies at the expense of new ones for the 21st century, ad nauseum.

  2. collapse expand

    I think that more and more moderates with break left. Perhaps even more than in 2008. Why? Because over and over we see the president acting rationally. That in itself is very conservative, or at least it used to be. Even if one doesn’t agree with every decision he makes, at least we see some strategic decision making taking place. And more than this, here specifically, we see that he is not catering to at least part of his base for political gain, rather he’s made a decision which fits into his broader strategy. Good for him. I think the great middle is getting fed up with the screeching on the right, and if they keep it up (can’t really wait to hear what Palin says about this), the middle will side with a rational left over an irrational right any time. Basically, our president is on quite a roll governing instead of pandering. Rather refreshing I think.

  3. collapse expand

    I also question your logic. Energy conservation will save more energy faster than it takes to drill baby drill. The fact that conservation is not even mentioned (although Obama apparently is about to sign or enable increases in CAFE standards) tells you this is more moderate Republican policy from a moderate Republican President. There’s very little Obama has done that Bush and Cheney did not do. And the differences are more in line with what a moderate Republican would do than a traditional Democrat.

    And the health insurance reform legislation was not “a progressive victory.” It was a victory for people who believe that free markets can solve the health care problems in our country better than the government and more cheaply, too. Belief in free markets over government is another hallmark of Republican core ideology. If Obama were a traditional Democrat and the health insurance legislation were progressive, then the public option (which a majority of the public wanted, for example, Medicare buy in) would have been part of the legislation. It wasn’t. Worse, Obama apparently made a secret backroom deal with the hospital lobby to nuke any public option.

    Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Paul Krugman agree: the health insurance legislation was moderate Republican legislation. This energy announcement is yet another sign Obama doesn’t believe in core Democratic values when it comes to energy policy.

  4. collapse expand

    Health-care was not “a major progressive victory” as you put it but rather a near total capitulation to industry. Signing off on this drilling merely puts proof to the idea that Obama is a corporatist plutocrat. What a joke. This is not “facing reality”. These drilling platforms will not come on line for years. Furthermore, it is utterly absurd to argue that increasing offshore drilling will help the U.S. achieve “energy independence”. The U.S. has less than 3% of the worlds oil reserves and consumes more than 25% of the worlds oil. The only way the U.S. can and will achieve “energy independence” is to invest massively in alternative energy and get off of petroleum altogether.

    Progressives/liberals/leftists–WAKE UP!!! Obama is a fraud. He used you to get elected. Stop supporting him and his fraudulent “reforms”.

  5. collapse expand

    Balance baby balance. Obama was never a far left politician and honestly thank God. Far left is just as bad as far right.

    • collapse expand

      Just curious, and not to bait or piss you off, but what does far left look like? We’ve seen far right, conservative, and moderate Republicanism over the past few decades. We haven’t seen much middle of the road Democratic policy lately. I’d love to know what far left looks like. I can’t imagine, for example, making either the Medicare program (single payer) or the federal employee health care program (private insurance) available to the public as “far left” but maybe I’m wrong.

      Enlighten me, if you’re so inclined. Thanks.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    I really doubt Obama’s throwing in the towel on emissions reduction until we’ve got new energy solution in queue. We’ve got all the technology we need to go on with the first few steps in emissions reductions. Developing and building clean energy generation technology is, generally, more expensive than conservation. Cap and trade’s not going so well (lumping all forms of that in w/ any carbon tax), but it’s an easier political hurdle than any other way to accomplish the same thing. There’s not much of a point from a climate change standpoint to getting emissions under control if we wait a decade or two to do it.

    If we’re talking about pure economic benefit and not factoring the costs of permanent climate change, it’s a much better idea to burn all of the coal and natural gas that we can, and import oil while it’s available and cheap.

  7. collapse expand

    Obama’s strategy is to allow Republicans to paint themselves into a corner. Every time he comes out with a moderate, conservative-informed policy, like this one, the Republicans (like Boehner) trip all over themselves trying to denounce their own ideas, in order to play to their base. He simply gives them the length of rope, and they hang themselves with it.

  8. collapse expand

    You will never see a drop of Obamaoil…..unless it leaks from the bottom of one of his limos…..this is all smoke and mirrors…only without the smoke, because smoke offends the environmental kooks who will tie this up in the courts for years and years….

  9. collapse expand

    We are going to find out in future years Obama and the oil companies have devised a way to angle drill and will be drilling from Virginia to Iraq and sucking them dry from below.

  10. collapse expand

    There is nothing brilliant about it. McCain had the idea first, his just spunging off it
    http://cliveshome.blogspot.com the world is cruel i wonder how McCain is feeling now.

  11. collapse expand

    During the next big war on this planet, the USA will not be able to import oil. That’a
    a problem. In addition, the US is absolutely unable to create jobs in the private sector. For the past 10 years, only the Gov. has created jobs, and with this drilling project, Obama tries to create jobs. The US economy is a disaster waiting to happen, especially with this Government. To call Obama brilliant, or he’s ideas brilliant is a joke. Obama is a repeat of Bush politics, nothing more.

    Time will tell.

  12. collapse expand

    What’s really great is that a lot of people think this guy’s the anti-christ…
    something like 1 in 4 republicans and 1 in nine dems. Satan? Really?
    To me it seems more like he doesn’t have a clue as to what it is he believes in. Say what you will about the Morning Star but he does not suffer from a weakness of conviction.
    Smart as usual? Obviously the guy’s sharp as a tac. The question is what does he believe in. Ran on getting out of Irafpak, rocked the son of surge and increased the drone strikes. Delivered the liberty/security trade-off line at the innauguration and then gave the company, I.C.E., the NSA, DHS, and everyone and anyone with a counter-terrorism degree from an online university more rope and less oversight. Punked out on Gitmo and what can you say about a Law professor that doesn’t believe in the criminal justice system?
    Talked about putting teeth back into the civil rights division at DOJ and Holder can’t even stand up to Joe Arpaio let alone the Pentagon.
    Let’s face it- the guy’s like Clinton without the Hooter’s bullshit.
    But if we ever got real progressive leadership it wouldn’t be bricks through DNC field office windows. It would be a second civil war.
    Shit…maybe he’s a genious.

  13. collapse expand

    Mr. Kain,

    Mr. Obama’s decision on off shore oil drilling may be brilliant politics but it is not sound public policy.

  14. collapse expand

    /bravo Obama.
    although I am an environmentalist, I agree that we need to attack pollution and energy independence on multiple fronts. It also takes the wind out of the Republicans sails at election time and gives some relief to families and business if energy prices subside. That said, I feel that the most aggressive leg of such a policy must be conservation and innovation. For a new plan presented to Congress, GSA, EPA, and the White House see:
    http://whitecollargreenspace.blogspot.com/
    The government already has the money to pay for universal health and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of office buildings by 50%.
    The Federal government pays for almost one billion square feet of office space. Most office space sits unused 70% of the time because most white collar work is scheduled for only one shift per day or only 45 hours out of a 168 hour week. 30% efficiency is completely unacceptable in today’s economy. We could schedule 2 shifts of white collar workers, thus increasing our efficiency by 100% and reducing our carbon footprint by 50%. We could cut the cost of overhead for each employee by 40 to 50%, half as much infrastructure, half as much office space, half as many computers and supplies. With the overhead for each of our 2 million Federal workers approaching $40,000 per year, the potential savings could be $20 billion per year, enough to pay for health care reform.
    If extended to private industry, this simple plan will:

    •Save federal gov a half trillion dollars in next 10 years
    •Exactly amount needed for universal healthcare
    •Reduce white-collar overhead costs by 50%
    •Reduce carbon footprint of office space by 50%
    •Reduce budget deficits for most state governments
    •Reduce our dependence on foreign oil
    •Make workers competitive in the global economy
    •Improve profits for all businesses and
    •Increase tax receipts for state/fed governments
    •Businesses can hire more employees & lower prices

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