The Issues Obama Won't Flip-Flop On
When Barack Obama entered the presidential race, much was made of his unusual political savvy. He represented a new era in politics, his racial background heralded a new post-racial moment, and he stood for a radical change from the old politics. As the race wore on, the accolades became more and more absurd—Ezra Klein suggested that he had a nigh-Godlike rhetorical style, while Michael Morlock called him a “Lightworker” who could harness positive energy. He was supposed to be the next Roosevelt, a man who could redraw the political map and change the face of the country forever.
Of course, no politician could live up to the hype around Obama, and few informed people thought that he would be the agent of radical change that the media suggested he was. However, most people did expect that he would display an above average sense of political judgment, one that would allow him to feel out where the American people stood on important issues, and sell himself accordingly.
He hasn’t displayed much political discernment, though, and that is simply staggering. It is not as if he is running against a popular incumbent—in fact, the opposite is true. Disagreeing with GOP policies is like shooting fish in a barrel, and there are more than enough issues where the public is disgusted with the Republican party—corruption, pork barrel spending, the economy, the handling of the Iraq War, and fuel prices are just a few.
The two most important such issues are the Iraq War and fuel prices, and somehow, Obama has managed to get himself on the wrong side of both. (Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that Obama is on the “wrong side” of the Iraq War, but it would be hard to say he is on the right side of the issue). Just as the surge’s effectiveness became fully apparent, Obama came to Iraq and instantly starting downplaying its success. Sure, the surge may have reduced violence, but everybody knew it would do that (before the surge, Obama said that it would not decrease violence), and what about its utility in allowing Iraqis to take over their country? (I would assume not having a bunch of terrorists running around is a key step to an Iraqi takeover of the government).
Apart from the fact that Obama’s Iraq position is stupid, it also displays an odd and uncharacteristic streak of stubbornness. Why can’t Obama simply admit that the surge worked? He could still push for a quick pullout, and he would appear much less John Kerryequese to voters concerned with his foreign policy expertise.
Iraq isn’t the biggest political issue anymore—the economy in general, and fuel prices in particular, are. And Obama has completely bungled the energy issue as well. Sixty percent of the nation wants to see more domestic oil drilling. Over half want to see drilling in ANWR (and yes, I’m aware that McCain opposes drilling in ANWR as well). Barack Obama’s energy plan? Tire gauges.
Okay, there is more to his plan than that, but Obama’s strange insistence that checking tire pressure would save as much oil as offshore drilling would produce sums up his energy policy. That claim is debatable—the Energy Information Administration report Obama cites assumes no offshore drilling will be done until 2012, and has been very wrong in many of its predictions.
But even if we assume that Obama is correct, is there any benefit to insisting that the answer to our oil problem consists in proper car maintenance? Whatever the truth is, offshore drilling sounds right, and tire gauges don’t seem like the answer to our energy needs. Is there any reason for Obama not to support offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan?
(Obama recently expressed some support for off-shore drilling, but his support is so filled with caveats as to be meaningless. He would support “limited” drilling, and only after oil companies look for oil on every scrap of land to which they have access).
It is not as if Obama is so steadfast and honest that the very idea of switching positions for political purposes is anathema to him. He vowed to accept public funding if his opponent would, then ran away from his promise. He vowed to oppose the FISA bill to the hilt, but eventually voted for it. Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA; he later admitted his rhetoric was “overheated.” Few care much about those issues, but Obama changed his position to entice those relatively few voters who did. But on the two issues all voters do care about, Obama is steadfast as a rock in his unpopular stands. And for Republicans, that’s a good thing.