One of the reasons Barack Obama got elected president is that to a majority of voters he was right on the major issues facing the country. Obama's views regarding the war in Iraq, the economy, the environment and the need for widespread change in our government resonated with an electorate that had grown very critical of the Bush administration's approach to these and other issues. While candidates are often judged by their views on major issues, presidents are more frequently judged on their performance. The two are not unrelated, so, for example, because Bush was perceived as a failure by 2008, Obama's positions, most of which were in direct opposition to Bush's, were more popular among voters.
Obama's oratorical skills served him very well during his campaign, but they have times seemed misplaced in his presidency. For a president, a great speech does not stand by itself the way it does for a candidate. Instead it occurs in a context. In December, for example, President Obama made a pretty good speech about the war in Afghanistan, but the speech is already forgotten while the wrong-headed policy lives on. Yesterday's speech on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a different case, but still demonstrates that oratory, while certainly of great use to President Obama, is not going to be enough.
This sense of shock is particularly shameless coming from conservatives who sat quietly during the last 18 months, rarely even pushing back against the most bizarre right wing canards, such as those regarding President Obama's place of birth. Conservative responses to this controversy have ducked the serious issues and focused more on Paul's flaws. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), one of Paul's most prominent supporters, made comments indicating that DeMint was either unaware of Paul's basic views or thought that Paul needed better media training. Ross Douthat's New York Times piece on the topic was a somewhat tortured attempt to dismiss Paul as somebody too beholden to ideological rigidity. Both seem bizarrely unaware that Paul's victory is a product of months of ideological hyperbole of the kind that characterizes President Obama as a dangerous socialist. Both DeMint and Douthat conveniently, and wrongly, absolve mainstream conservatives from any blame in the matter.
Years ago Phil Ochs, the great folk singer, defined a liberal as somebody who is "ten degrees to the left of center during good times; and ten degrees to the right of center when it effects them personally." If Phil Ochs were alive today he might look at the far right in America and describe them as 40 degrees to the right of center when things are going well and 40 degrees to the left of center when it effects them personally
The question of whether or not to drill offshore is something of a false construct anyway, because it is meaningless in the absence of other options. There are, of course, other options. We don't have to get our oil by drilling offshore. We can get it by tapping into our reserves or by buying it from somewhere else. If we decide to tap our reserves, we are doing little more than postponing the question about whether or not to drill offshore. Getting our oil from somewhere else, in addition to deeply complicating US foreign policy, is obviously not without an environmental impact. Carbon released by driving a car powered by oil from the Middle East, Central Asia or elsewhere, for example, still contributes to climate change.