In my opinion, it was Barack Obama’s most human moment as president thus far.
He took his licks in front of the press following a strong rebuke from voters. But as the president channeled his vision for the next two years, he seemed to have found a new go-to issue: energy.
Obama 2.0 is going to have to compromise to get anything done. The same will be true for the Republicans, who will have to point to something they have done for the 2012 elections. (Yes, I’m thinking about those already.) Oddly enough, this could develop into an atmosphere of productivity — heavily compromised productivity, that is.
Obama made the first move and unleashed a can of energy talk.
Early in the press conference, he talked about what the election revealed about voters’ priorities. “Jobs, their security and their future: reducing our deficit, promoting a clean energy economy,” the president said. That’s a welcome early mention of energy policy, let alone, “clean energy economy.” There’s not even an oil spill right now and prices at the pump are reasonable.
I thought it was a fluke. Energy policy has been orphaned so many times. (And Lindsey Graham and Harry Reid refuse to take paternity tests.) But this didn’t sound like a sweet-talking guy at the bar hoping to get environmentalists back in bed with him. It wasn’t a fluke.
When taking questions about compromising with his friends across the aisle, Obama’s first talking point was energy. “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who thinks that we’ve got an energy policy that works the way it needs to.”
A few questions later Obama was asked to identify areas of compromise when drafting a federal budget with Republicans. He immediately put a fence around clean energy. “I don’t think we should be cutting back on research and development, because if we can develop new technologies in areas like clean energy, that could make all the difference in terms of job creation here at home.”
It was pretty interesting to watch. Through energy policy, the president was testing the thought of extending an olive branch to Republicans. During the conference he acknowledged that the window for passing an encompassing energy and climate strategy has closed. “I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year. And so it’s doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after. But that doesn't mean there isn't agreement that we should have a better energy policy.”
Then he got specific. First up: natural gas. “We’ve got, I think, broad agreement that we’ve got terrific natural gas resources in this country. Are we doing everything we can to develop those?”
Batting second: the electric car. “There's a lot of agreement around the need to make sure that electric cars are developed here in the United States, that we don't fall behind other countries. Are there things that we can do to encourage that?”
Third on the list: nuclear, but followed closely by energy independence. “There's been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases."
And then, after speaking about energy policy more than any time since the BP oil spill, Obama wrapped it up. “So I think when it comes to something like energy, what we’re probably going to have to do is say here are some areas where there's just too much disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, we can’t get this done right now, but let’s not wait. Let’s go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on, and we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don’t.”
A post-midterm press conference is a big platform for discussions on energy policy. The issue is now effectively up for compromise. At least it’s up, but where will it go?
A full transcript of President Obama’s remarks is posted on the L.A. Times website and can be seen here.