May 16, 2009
New Boss same as the old boss
Environment: Once again, the president finds it's not so easy to scrap the policies of his much-maligned predecessor. As with Gitmo and military tribunals, so it goes with offshore drilling and even Arctic wildlife.
"George W. Bush was right" is something you won't catch Barack Obama saying in public, but his administration is making the point, though quietly, through its actions.
In the latest nod to the previous president's realism, Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently said he will retain a Bush administration rule limiting the scope of protection for the polar bear.
The rule keeps the bear's official "threatened" status from being used as a regulatory lever to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. Environmental groups wanted the new administration to scrap it in favor of a more aggressive approach. They're now forced to pursue their cause in court, just like in the old days.
Salazar left open the possibility of changing the rule later. He also insisted the administration "is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear." But any Interior secretary, of whatever political stamp, would say that.
The real message was unspoken. It goes something like this: Sure, the Arctic ice may be receding and polar bears may be losing habitat, but let's be realistic. Slapping a limit on CO2 emissions now — which is what the greens want — would wallop the economy and probably do little to save the bears. The greater necessity now is to get the country back to work. The bears can wait.
Salazar's announcement came shortly after the president signaled that he was open to more oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. In a May 5 meeting with members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Obama was asked if he would reinstate an offshore-drilling moratorium that lapsed last year. He said he would not.
According to one of the lawmakers at that meeting, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, Obama "was fairly pointed in saying we need to have domestic production."
Last we checked, Obama was not being dissed as a tool of the oil companies for saying this. The Left still gives him a pass here, as it does in other cases where he seems resigned to follow Bush policies, at least for now.
His foot-dragging on closing the prison camp at Guantanamo has not provoked an outcry (though a decision to resume Bush-era military tribunals did give some human-rights activists heartburn).
Obama had issued an executive order to close Gitmo by next January. The order is just symbolic, however, without a concrete plan to close the camp and ensure that its remaining prisoners do not end up walking free in the U.S.
At this point, no such plan has been offered. Congress is moving ahead with a budget bill that sets aside no money for a shutdown. Rhetoric aside, the Obama policy on detainees in the war on terror is getting to look a lot like the policy he campaigned against.
Such is the power of facts on the ground and political necessities. Obama's willingness to lean in Bush's direction on some crucial issues is a sign of shrewdness and common sense. We welcome such realism.
Of course, if he were a new and untested conservative president, we'd be hearing much Big Media talk about how he's "growing in office" by moving toward the center. We'll say it even if no one else does, and we hope he grows a lot more.