07/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Misfortunates: Obama and Offshore Drilling

So the Obama administration says it is "premature" to rethink its endorsement of offshore drilling. No, it isn't.

President Obama thought he was being oh-so-clever by embracing offshore testing and drilling along the Atlantic coast. The idea was obvious: in one swoop he would deprive the drill-baby-drill contingent of its signature issue and show that he could triangulate with the best of them by bringing along Senate Republicans to pass an energy bill. That was then. Now that oil is gushing out of the Gulf of Mexico, the oiliness of that decision is patent. In coming weeks, Obama will have no choice but to retreat on offshore drilling.

The larger issue, however, remains. It is this: will his administration continually try to split the difference when it comes to big, important political issues? Or will Obama adhere to the principles that, by and large, animated his original quest for the presidency?

Obviously, Obama has often displayed great political acumen and flexibility, advancing his goals here, retreating there. But this is different. His opportunistic approval of offshore drilling in environmentally sensitive areas has already rebounded on him. The costs of the cleanup of the spill will vastly exceed any profits that could have been extracted from the ocean floor -- never mind the morality of killing thousands upon thousands of sea animals, not to mention the upheaval for the fishing industry.

This environmental catastrophe should, among other things, serve as a reminder to Obama that sometimes expediency can turn out to be utterly inexpedient.