A missed opportunity on the Keystone pipeline?

Is it just me or did President Obama miss an opportunity on the Keystone pipeline? In a long-awaited decision with pre-scripted reactions, the president came down on the side of environmentalists. Or did he? The presidential statement explained his decision not as a glowing defense of stopping the most carbon intensive form of energy extraction known, but rather as the result of being jammed by House Republicans who had set a deadline for the president.

Environmentalists cheered; Mitt Romney and his Republican allies howled, and the stage is set for both sides to play the issue for their bases. Voila! Drop the gloves; let’s get it on.

But the president doesn’t seem eager to fight. He could have used this moment to lead with a much stronger message on global warming and the insanity of ever-dirtier energy sources, and rally part of his dispirited base. But he didn’t, even leaving the door open for a new route to be presented for approval, albeit after November.

Maybe there is something to Andrew Sullivan’s notion I mentioned yesterday that the president has a strategy that most of us can’t fathom. Maybe the president is playing a longer game in which he positions himself as the reasonable one amid the insanity of Washington. He isn’t against the pipeline and its jobs per se — he just doesn’t want to be rushed into a decision with profound implications for the local and global environment. Sound pretty reasonable. I just hope it is a strategy.

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