Is Obama on target or off base?

Polls taken months before an election strike me as being roughly as reliable as using your household thermometer to figure out the temperature three states away. Barack Obama may not feel that way.

Messages can be hard to decipher when people try to have something both ways, but it appears he has reversed himself — or almost, kind of, a little bit reversed himself — on offshore drilling, and it appears that the reason is not some dawning of a new insight about our energy salvation. It is polls showing John McCain closing in on him.

The Republican’s climb from down under may have a lot do with voters thinking he has some answers for bringing down $4-a-gallon gas prices, according to some analyses that say, yes, people liked Obama’s trip to Europe, and yes, they applaud him on a bunch of other things, but no, they are not overly thrilled with Democratic dunderheadedness on oil.

After all, just about anybody can figure out that if you are running short of it and you have a veritable ocean of the stuff at your doorstep, you ought to drill and get it and thereby help fix things. Even so, Obama had said we shouldn’t go there, and Democrats in the House wouldn’t even let the issue of offshore drilling come up for a vote.

Now Obama has said he just might go along with offshore drilling if it were part of a comprehensive energy package, which is to say, the idea of recovering oil off our shores does not strike horror in his heart and he might give a little to get a little.

You’ve got to suppose he would never in the world have given this nod of the head if he felt as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does — that the very planet is at stake on this issue, that the air our children breathe could be made a poisonous by this activity and a healthy future ravaged.

The Pelosi stance, which is more or less the Democratic stance generally, is refutable on every point. To mention just a few:

— Air pollution is decreasing in this country because of emission standards and will continue to decrease, whether we drill offshore or not. Oil imported from elsewhere in the world is no less polluting, anyway, and our technology makes drilling offshore very, very safe for the environment.

— Prices will go down as supply increases; even the hint of offshore drilling has apparently caused prices to come down some.

— Human-induced, catastrophic global warming is far from settled science, and the chief means of rescue if it does prove true will have to be technological developments, unless we want to wreck economies around the world, including our own, of course.

Obama — with his indication of some movement on offshore drilling — may be an improvement on Pelosi, but still looks to be more hindrance than help on gas-pump prices if he becomes president.

His "comprehensive" package could include all sorts of stupidities, such his proposal to tax the "windfall" profits of oil companies in order to write $1,000 checks for American families. Through this demagogic tax gimmick that has failed before, oil companies would be deprived of the means and incentive to wrest us from our predicament even if smiles brighten the faces of some check recipients.

The candidate also wants to siphon gasoline from our emergency reserves, meaning that in the case of an honest-to-God emergency, we’d be up the creek while the Obama foolishness was doing only pennies worth of good for families in the meantime.

His stance on nuclear energy offers little hopes that proven technology would play much of a role in his legislative agenda, just as his close ties to the ethanol lobby indicate despite some wobbling on the matter that we might keep traveling down that disastrous path.

McCain is far from perfect on energy questions, but ventures closer to real-world solutions than Obama, who should maybe keep reacting to those polls whether they’re to be trusted or not.


(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)