The pragmatic president

Liberals need to realize Obama’s doing what he said he would do

President Barack Obama is taking flak lately from the more liberal members of his party. They haven’t liked his decision to pursue the war in Afghanistan more aggressively, and they were disappointed when, during the battle over health-care reform, he abandoned the so-called “public option” in order to reach a passable deal.

More recently, staunch liberals have decried Obama’s support of construction of new nuclear-power plants and, just last week, his decision to open some offshore areas to new drilling for oil and natural gas.

To hear them tell it, he’s backtracking on his campaign promises. But that’s not the case. During the campaign, Obama was forthright about his position on all of these issues, and his posture hasn’t changed significantly since then.

The reality is, Obama is a left-leaning and idealistic—witness his recent moves on nuclear weapons and fuel-efficiency standards—but still fundamentally middle-of-the-road president with a pragmatic bent. He’s willing to compromise when necessary to get things done. And he’s also willing to challenge liberal shibboleths when he believes they’re outdated, as his decisions on nuclear power and offshore drilling indicate.

The latter is a good example of this unorthodoxy. There are risks to offshore drilling, but it’s not at all clear that they outweigh the benefits, not only in creating American jobs and lessening our dependence on foreign oil, but also environmentally. Improved technology and stronger regulations have resulted in much safer drilling, and there have been no catastrophic spills from America’s 4,000 platforms since the Santa Barbara spill in 1969.

In fact, offshore oil spills are rare and comprise a very small part—less than 2 percent—of the overall oil leakage into waters. Most of it, 47 percent worldwide, comes from natural seepage, and 22 percent comes from municipal and industrial runoff. In contrast, data show that oil transportation—from the Middle East to the United States, for example—is much riskier, accounting for 33 percent of all spills.

We don’t necessarily agree with all of the president’s decisions. We’re concerned about the war in Afghanistan, which increasingly seems a deadly and expensive folly, given the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai government. But on the whole Obama has played the extremely bad hand he was given remarkably well and is doing his best to bring about the changes he promised, as he promised them. Those who voted for him should keep that in mind.