If you had expected US President Barack Obama to have a consistent set of principles and stick to it, you would have been shocked today to hear that he turned down the proposal to build a pipeline for incredibly dirty Canadian tar sands oil. President Obama has been a lukewarm environmentalist at best while in the White House, but a number of factors converged to hopefully slow down the extraction of tar sands oil in a move that could avoid catastrophic climate destabilization. Here they are in order of narrative importance:
- Popular opposition forced President Obama to delay his decision on approving the pipeline until after the election. If you had believed TransCanada, the company wanting to build the pipeline, this delay would have forced them to give up on the project. They didn’t give up, and republicans assumed this meant that Obama wanted to save face by approving the oil pipeline after his re-election.
- There’s an election coming up, which is the one time Democrats in the USA tend to act as if they give two hoots about the left wing of their party.
- As a result, Obama has fired his former chief of staff and installed someone less horrendous than the banks’ guy on the inside of the White House. Previous chiefs of staff have had such moronic opinions on political matters as “you won’t pass healthcare reform, you should back off it”.
- The republicans in the Senate decided that they would support extending unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts, but in return, they would require the President to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline now, to try and sabotage him with his base before the election.
- In a classic serendipitous backfire move, Obama was correctly advised that it was both bad policy and bad politics to approve the pipeline before the election, and so he actually ignored the cloud of lobbyists surrounding him and did something almost brave.
The question is whether this will be too little too late to start winning back Obama’s support after his unconditional bailout for big banks, his failure to reform campaign finance, his compromises on his healthcare bill, and his ridiculous extension of Bush Tax Cuts that rob normal Americans to pay the rich. Obama has a lot of work to do if he wants to get re-elected on anything like the historical expansion of the vote he had last time.