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Obama's Smart Move

By Jon Keller

I don't know if offshore oil drilling will be a significant part of the solution to our energy problems. I don't trust either the don't-worry-be-happy hype of the oil industry types or the reflexive nay-saying of the no-drilling-anywhere crowd. And I certainly don't want to see the search for more oil take precedence over the long-overdue development of reliable, renewable alternative energy resources.

But I do think Barack Obama's about face on offshore oil drilling is good news, not least because it suggests the man is serious about being a pragmatic, effective leader. (Rather than stifle the buzz, I'll ignore his phony comment that his shift really isn't a shift at all. It's the heat of the campaign. Two-thirds of the stuff he and McCain are saying on any given day is liable to be preposterous political spin.)

"We have to compromise," Obama told the Palm Beach Post. "The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling. And so we don't want gridlock. We want to get something done." Yes, exactly right. Desperately-needed energy-policy reform has gone nowhere in Washington because the baby-boom political culture appears to abhor compromise of any kind. If gridlock and failure are the result, so what? Better that an entire nation should suffer than a single self-satisfied boomer activist should have to settle for half a loaf on a "matter of principle."

Obama's move is clearly a concession to political reality; his no-drilling stance was bombing with the voters. And his modest conversion won't please the droolers of the left who insist he be pure on all their hot-button fantasies. The slobbering right that sees deceit and conspiracy in everything Obama does will be similarly outraged. But what better signs can you have that a politician is on the right track?

Is it possible that the most overused political charge of modern times - that of "flip-flopper" - might have jumped the shark? It was overdone as a weapon against John Kerry in 2004, although he did beg for it with his "voted for it before I voted against it" gaffe. George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a non-interventionist in foreign affairs; what followed might well be called a flip-flop of gargantuan proportions. You need a fast computer to keep track of all of John McCain's policy compromises during the last year alone.

If it's purity you crave, buy a fancy diamond. The last thing we need in Washington is more ideological rigidity, litmus testing, and inaction caused by egotistical refusal to bend.

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large