Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Art of Incoherent Noncompromise

There are many ways to criticize the present administration's signature accomplishment: the passage of ObamaCare. To wit: it is expensive, ineffective, self-contradictory, and hyper-complex.

Such characteristics can prospectively be boiled down to a single failing, however: the triumph of special-interest politics over skilled policy-making. ObamaCare dragged across the proverbial finish line having started as a series of concessions to special interests (organized labor in particular) and having accumulated support with an explosion of add-ons, each aimed at nothing more than adding a few additional Congressional votes.

Though politics is the art of compromise and of the possible, there are reasonable boundaries to the pursuit of compromise and possibility. At some point the advocates of change must make the case for the specific change they advocate and stop adding or deleting elements to make folks happy. Without such boundaries, the result (notice we didn't redundantly write the redundancy "end result") is a pastiche, a wish list, a blown budget, a law that simultaneously works both sides of the equation against each other. That is, 2400-plus pages of laws that no one has read, no one can make sense of, and no one can even begin to correct with regulations or additional legislation.

So today's announcement that we will open portions of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling but continue a moratorium on the Pacific fits the same incoherent paradigm. Why drilling should be environmentally safe in one ocean and not another might have to do with subtle geological and ecological analysis. Or it might just be a way of trying to say yes to both sides at once. Pro-oil folk get a bone thrown their way; anti-oil folk get a bone too.

But why this particular arrangement? We note that the map of opened areas happens to situate alongside states that are deeply red or purple-turning-red: Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alaska (the state that would be excluded from the union if the anti-Palinites had their deepest dreams fulfilled, and which also gets its nose tweaked with one coast opened and another closed). The solid-blue Left Coast keeps its sunsets free from additional silhouettes of derricks. Coincidence? Who knows?

In any case, the claim that this drilling will make the United States less dependent of foreign oil is weak at best. From what we've read so far, the amount of oil prospectively contributed by this drilling will be the equivalent of trying to make the mortgage payment by searching the upholstery for lost coins. While journalists, ever the zero-sum dualists, see the allowance of any drilling as potentially assuaging Obama's opponents while angering his core constituency, this proposal offers so little oil and includes so much delay that it will assuage no one. Further, any anger that this provokes will be short-lived, as this proposal is almost certain to be followed with the Next Big Thing: the cap-and-tax proposal to that promises to hamshackle the economy in the name of avoiding Climate Change, now the Official Religion of the Environment.

We're waiting for any explanation of this mess that (a) cogently explains why the Atlantic and Pacific get different treatment; (b) acknowledges how little oil this drilling will yield--and how late; (c) doesn't move immediately to the claim that this ought to be enough to establish "bipartisanship," like promising to "look into" tort reform was bipartisanship before; (d) admits that this leaves the Republic no closer to a coherent "energy policy" than it was before--and further away, if anything.

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