NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Of all the problems President Obama faces -- from the war in Afghanistan to the economy -- there aren't very many that undermine his presidency, and his chances for reelection, more than those "foot-tall numbers on street corners throughout the country," as the New York Times put it the other day. That's why I wonder: Why does Obama have such an indecisive, meandering energy policy?
It's not surprising that the Republicans would seek to exploit the pain consumers are experiencing at the gas pump -- they'd be fools not to. But I'd expect from Obama, as an experienced Chicago pol, a politically sound strategy of some kind. Yet all that seems to be coming out of the White House are mixed signals that satisfy nobody, with an "all of the above" energy strategy -- itself snatched from Republican talking points -- encompassing increased oil and gas production and alternative energy.
What that suggests is a president trying to be all things to all people. "Leading from behind" may work in Libya (though even that's dubious) but not when it comes to the painful choices Americans have to make when it comes to energy.
Obama infuriated Republicans and the oil industry with his rejection -- for now -- of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. Environmentalists would have preferred to see the pipeline killed outright, but they were happy about this. But if Obama was truly in favor of "all of the above" (include oil drilling), he'd have allowed the pipeline to go forward. Instead, he gave the Republicans a "he's against jobs" talking point.Meanwhile, Obama infuriated the growing anti-hydrofracking movement by endorsing that controverisal method of extracting natural gas from shale formations. If Keystone is an emotional issue for environmentalists, hydrofracking is capable of sending quite a few of them -- and a lot of non-environmentalists -- into an absolute frenzy. Obama contended in his State of the Union address that hydrofracking can be performed safely, in a dubious assessment of the well-publicized risks of a technique that has engendered vociferous opposition. The Keystone versus hydrofracking dichotomy left Obama supporters feeling, and not for the first time, that their support was being taken for granted. But it's hardly going to do a thing to induce the oil industry to weaken its ferocious opposition to everything he stands for. The large oil companies pour money into Republican coffers, and are likely to continue to do so, no matter how much Obama angers environmentalists by endorsing hydrofracking and taking other positions they don't like.