Don't Look Now -- Governance May Be Coming

Washington Matters

Don't Look Now -- Governance May Be Coming

Against the backdrop of charges and countercharges over race, attack ads and complaints over attack ads, a little bit of lawmaking may be breaking out. And it if it works, you'll be able to credit both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

After the five-week summer recess, Congress may well break a deadlock on long-stalled energy legislation by accepting the drilling of oil in some offshore locations. Late last week Obama reversed field and said Republican insistence on offshore drilling should not be allowed to derail a broader energy bill. "If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage -- I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done," Obama told the Palm Beach Post in an interview published Friday.

Republicans predictably sought to use Obama's new willingness to embrace offshore drilling as politics pure and simple since the polls indicate that a large majority favor it. That comes after Obama and other Democrats bashing McCain for flip-flopping in late spring when he, too, reversed years of opposition to allowing states to open the oceans and Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. Although they cited different reasons, Obama and McCain both described their new positions as examples of the pragmatic, centrist approach they would take to resolve national issues.

McCain made the first move, arguing that the oil supply situation had become so dire that it was time to set aside some environmental concerns and end the federal moratorium on offshore exploration and drilling (He still opposes opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.) Obama, like most Democrats, insists that offshore drilling will do little to change the nation's immediate or long-term energy outlook and accused McCain of making false promises to voters about the impact new drilling might have on gasoline prices. In fact, he still holds that position, but acknowledges that with near universal support from Republicans plus backing by some Democrats, drilling may be necessary for passage of a comprehensive energy bill that will also contain Democratic priorities -- especially tax breaks for investments in alternative energy and incentives to conserve. That's why Obama gave  tentative backing to a compromise energy package unveiled by a bipartisan group of 10 senators as a way of breaking the deadlock.

Politics or not, flip-flops or not, the candidates are right about the pragmatism. What's more, it may be the only way to save the energy bill. McCain not only drew fresh attention to offshore drilling, but reversing his prior opposition also cast a new light on the issue. Obama improved the prospects or compromise because Democrats will have a much tougher time oppoing the idea if their standardbearer says it is a reasonable way to ensure progress on the hottest political issue of the day 

Aren't both approaches -- taking some risk and applying some pressure -- important aspects of leadership? And a little leadership is a refreshing breeze in a campaign threatening to center on issues of personality and style instead of issues that have Americans deeply worried about their economic security.