Saturday, August 9, 2008

Krauthammer and Gerson: Practically the Same Column

One of the things you miss by not reading the dead-trees edition is the ability to see different pieces side by side. It's a lot harder to do that on a laptop screen. But after shredding Krauthammer yesterday, I turned to Gerson, and couldn't help but notice the parallelism.

Krauthammer: Let's see: housing meltdown, credit crunch, oil shock not seen since the 1970s. The economy is slowing, unemployment growing and inflation increasing. It's the sixth year of a highly unpopular war, and the president's approval rating is at 30 percent. The Italian Communist Party could win this election. The American Democratic Party is trying its best to lose it.

Gerson: There is now one question in American politics: With the Republican Party in such bad shape -- measured by polls, voter registration and general enthusiasm -- why isn't Barack Obama in better shape? (Most national polls show him slightly ahead.)

Krauthammer: However, Americans' greatest concern is the economy, and their greatest economic concern is energy (by a significant margin: 37 percent to 21 percent for inflation). Yet Democrats have gratuitously forfeited the issue of increased drilling for domestic oil and gas. By an overwhelming margin of 2 to 1, Americans want to lift the moratorium preventing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, thus unlocking vast energy resources shut down for the past 27 years.

Gerson: Sometimes the right issue can be even better than the right theory, and for McCain the energy issue has been a gift. There is perhaps no other topic in American politics today on which the public is angry, seeks action and agrees strongly with Republicans.

Krauthammer: Democrats...say that we cannot drill our way out of the oil crisis. Of course not. But it is equally obvious that we cannot solar or wind or biomass our way out. Does this mean that because any one measure cannot solve a problem, it needs to be rejected?

Gerson: Obama is hamstrung by a coalition that insists we will not drill our way out of this problem -- which is true but beside the point. No single approach will solve the problem in the short or medium term. And a nation in an energy crisis has every justification to extract its oil and natural gas while it pursues alternatives to oil and natural gas.

Krauthammer: Why is this issue either/or? Who's against properly inflated tires? Let's start a national campaign, Cuban-style, with giant venceremos posters lining the highways. ("Inflate your tires. Victory or death!") Why must there be a choice between encouraging conservation and increasing supply? The logical answer is obvious: Do both. Do everything. Wind and solar. A tire gauge in every mailbox. Hell, a team of oxen for every family (to pull their gasoline-drained SUVs).

Gerson: McCain's approach is to do it all: drilling, nuclear, alternatives and conservation.

The first K-G couplet is mere concern trollery. If they want to shed crocodile tears in two-part harmony, far be it from me to interfere.

In the second one, Messrs. K. and G. are - how best to say it? - encouraging the shortsightedness of the electorate, and cheering the politicians that pander to it, if they're Republicans. To sum them up, energy costs are suddenly high today. If the reaction of the American people is to do something that's a bad idea for other reasons, but may reduce the price of gasoline by a dime in 2018, then John McCain's willingness to pander to this desire is all good - and Obama's initial resistance was dumb, and his change of heart shows that he has no principles.

Of course, as I said yesterday, they're viewing this through the wrong lens - of energy, rather than climate change. In terms of climate change, more drilling is a bad idea - but in this case, it's a bad idea on a small scale, so if it can be traded in some manner for things that substantially advance the climate change agenda, then it might well be worth it. If offshore drilling had the capability of bringing back the era of cheap, abundant oil, reversing on this would be caving on a core principle. But its lack of likely impact reduces it to a bargaining chip.

The last two couplets again show K. and G. looking through the wrong lens. Offshore drilling isn't part of the solution; it's part of the problem.

Gerson adds something more that's worth a response:

But since Obama's short public career has been conventionally -- in some cases, extremely -- liberal, his tactical shift to the center has been startlingly obvious, on issues from guns to terror surveillance to Iraq, and now (reluctantly) to oil drilling. Says Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center: "Obama's political calculation may be correct, but it still involves a price. It has shattered his claim to be different. It calls into question his political character and leaves the impression he is consumed and defined by ambition."

At least temporarily, Obama's tactics have raised a damning political question: Who is this man?
Nice, but changing positions on third-tier issues such as gun control, or minor aspects of a major issue like climate change, don't exactly call Obama's identity into question. (Damned if I know what Gerson's referring to about Iraq.) He's got a point with the FISA issue, but that's really all he's got.

But all the way back in February 2007, Obama defined the core issues of this election as Iraq, health care, and climate change. He's also got the meta-issue that lobbyists and the corporations they represent shouldn't be the ones to wield power in our system; real people should. Obama's positions on all of these issues have been quite consistent over time. Changes on minor issues or minor points hardly call Obama's identity or principles into doubt, any more than Reagan stopped being Reagan when he caved on Social Security in 1983.

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