The way John McCain is parsing the Florida politics of offshore oil drilling is one reason his newly proclaimed energy strategy is hard to take seriously. He would remove bans on most domestic offshore oil exploration in the name of national security, yet then let states make up their own minds.
This is presidential leadership?
McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is hardly the first politician to pander on gas prices. Even before he spoke to Houston oil executives Tuesday to lay out his energy imperatives, he was peddling the fiction that more Gulf of Mexico drilling will somehow lower summer gas prices. "I think that this," he told reporters, "would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."
Short-term help? Leave aside that current oil prices are being driven more by escalating world demand and speculative market trading. Oil doesn't just squirt out of the sea and fuel up gas tanks. Under the best of circumstances, new oil resources take a decade to bring to the market.
In his speech, McCain did address the need for conservation and energy alternatives as part of a broader national strategy. But his thunder was saved for what he called the "proven oil reserves of at least 21-billion barrels in the United States" and his call to lift the drilling bans off the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific shores.
That call contradicts the assurances McCain made before the Florida primary. Now he and Gov. Charlie Crist are in a pinch. Just last year, Crist wrote Congress to express his "strong opposition" to any more Florida offshore drilling. He said the drilling law Congress passed in late 2006 "is a thoughtful compromise and it should be honored."
On Monday, though, Crist was telling reporters that "something has to be done." Does that mean he now supports the latest attempt by U.S. House Republicans to lift the Gulf drilling ban? Sometime today, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to hear another motion to lift the drilling ban. Would Crist call on Rep. C.W. Bill Young to break with bipartisan Florida tradition and vote to lift the ban?
McCain finds himself in a similar bind as he seeks applause in Houston and votes in Florida. "I'm not dictating to the states that they drill or they engage in oil exploration,'' McCain said. "I am saying that the moratoria should be lifted so that they have the opportunity to do so.''
In other words, McCain would proclaim an emergency and then ask others to come to the rescue. Surely he understands the absurdity of such a position, even if he is left to pretend otherwise.