The number of mulligans that America's press corps gives John McCain is truly remarkable. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it's because he doesn't threaten them--just as George W. Bush doesn't threaten them. By contrast, Bill Clinton and Al Gore and John Kerry and John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are scary-smart, in the way that my ex-boss Alicia Munnell once spoke of Lloyd Bentsen: "It only takes fifteen minutes before it is very clear why he is the Secretary of the Treasury and I am the Assistant Secretary." That seems to provoke a reaction from many journalists--I am not sure why.
Outsourced to Mark Kleiman:
The Reality-Based Community: Ambinder on McCain on offshore drilling: Does not compute.: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic is doing his best to maintain his objectivity as between McCain and Obama in the face of the well-known liberal bias of the facts. But sometimes Ambinder leans over too far in his attempt to be upright. Here's Ambinder on McCain's flip-flop on offshore drilling (which McCain now hints may be followed up by a flip-flop on the Alskan Natural Wildlife Reserve):
So McCain changed his mind about an issue. He's moving away from the default environmentalist position, so his "flipflopping" is automatically an issue. Criticizing the policy is an appropriate way to approach it if you're an Obama supporter, but why begrudge the man for changing his mind as conditions (our general awareness of climate change, the Iraq war, gas prices, etc) have changed? Perhaps he changed his mind for the wrong reason... but that's an argument that one has to make, not just assume....
Yes, if you ignore the numbers you can imagine that drilling offshore would do something about gas prices. And yes, the Iraq war reminds us that reliance on Middle East crude has costs other than the dollar costs. But the climate change issue points in precisely the opposite direction; it would be a good reason for someone to switch from support for offshore drilling to opposition, but not the otherway around. When we didn't know about climate change, the argument "We're importing too much oil, so we should produce more domestically" made a certain amont of sense (again, ignoring the numbers). Now that we know about climate change, the problem isn't just that we're importing too much oil, it's that we're burning too much oiL. Offshore drilling is no part of the solution to that problem. So the least hypothesis still seems to be that McCain changed his position because the oil and gas industry is a big part of the Republican coalition generally, and of his own donor base specifically.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?