All part of the plan

ALL PART OF THE PLAN…. We talked earlier about the Obama administration’s apparent intention to allow new oil and natural gas drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska. Given that this move could be used as a bargaining chip with Republicans during negotiations on energy policy, I questioned what the White House would get in exchange for the president’s concession. If the president has already effectively given Republicans what they wanted on energy, what will he get in return?

A Hill staffer I know emails with an alternative look at the same dynamic, suggesting President Obama is playing a game we’ve seen before. I’m republishing the staffer’s email with permission.

Obama preempts the other side’s most resonant arguments, which forces them to come up with more and more extreme claims in order to differentiate themselves. In the end, he occupies the reasonable middle ground and his opponents are Palinized. It doesn’t always work — on the national security/gitmo/Miranda stuff, for example, it turns out the utter extreme positions the right is left with given the centrist ground Obama has staked out turns out to be fairly popular. But even there, the Administration has had reasonable success pushing back on the Miranda nonsense and, because they effectively occupy the tough, pragmatic middle ground, they routinely get cover from non-crazy Republican national security voices, which has helped blunt the force of these issues. (I understand that the term “middle ground” is very slippery and dangerous here, but I basically use it to mean policies that, before the great crazy of 2009 had broad consensus support from large portions of both parties and the Broder/Friedman/Brooks axis.)

At the same time, the policy is a tailored, measured version of what the Republicans have urged — so, yes, the headline is, ‘Obama Allows New Offshore Drilling/Presses For Energy Independence,’ but at the same time, California/Oregon/Washington where opposition is strongest isn’t included, and there are environmentally-friendly changes to Alaska leasing policy announced at the same time. And again, as we’ve seen before, Republicans are sort of forced to twist and parse, and even to oppose things they have long supported, just because the Administration hasn’t gone far enough.

Finally, by announcing the drilling policy without seeking to extract concessions, the Administration makes clear that it is their policy and they are the centrist/flexible/pragmatic ones — making it harder for Republicans to argue that they accomplished this or that they forced Obama to do it. […]

[O]f course, if there was any reason to believe that Republicans would engage in normal negotiation/compromise, then I see why holding this back and trading it for support of a broader package would make sense. But does anyone really think there are Republicans to negotiate with on this stuff? And if Republicans do come to the table, Obama still has plenty of room to give, including by simply agreeing to sign a law that makes proposals like this a matter of statute, not executive discretion.

That’s an interesting take. Something to keep in mind.

And by the way, right on cue, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) denounced the administration’s drilling plan, despite its similarity to GOP demands, with Boehner expressing his outrage that the president didn’t go further. What a shock.