by JS O’Brien
The Republicans have found a new weapon in their desperation to capture the White House again and retain as many seats as possible in Congress:Â oil drilling.Â Yesterday, President George W. Bush lifted a moratorium on offshore drilling his father implemented in 1990.Â Note that this will make only a political difference, since Congress maintains its own moratorium.Â It does do two very important political things for the Republicans, though.
1.Â It allows Republicans to say that the Republican president wants to do something about the oil crisis and gasoline costs, even if the Democratic Congress does not, and
2. It allows Congressional Republicans toÂ introduce a bill lifting the moratorium, forcing Democrats to vote on the measure, while robbing Democrats of the ability to say that what CongressÂ votes doesn’t matter, because the presidential executive order is still in effect.
Most of those who read widelyÂ understand that additional drilling will do nothingÂ to increase oilÂ supply for many years, and most analysts are saying that the impact on prices, even when the new oil starts pumping, will be small.Â At least one pundit, though, thinks that there could be a short-term drop in prices as speculators unload long-term positions, and that it just might come in time for the 2008 election.
And maybe it will.
The question of the moment, though,Â is:Â What should Barack Obama do to counter the political charge that Democrats are not doing enough to alleviate gasoline prices and, worse, that Democratic initiatives banning offshore drilling, and drilling in the ANWR, are responsible for the high prices we have, today?
The temptation is to make a complex argument, because a complex argument is true.Â Obama could say, for instance, that the real issue is that oil will not last forever, that the real way out of this mess in the long term is to develop alternative sources of energy, that even if we could get oil prices to drop today, our children will face an even greater crisis in the future as oil literally disappears off the earth.Â He could go on to tell Americans that increasing use of oil will just increase global warming, so that our grandchildren might well face a world in which mass starvation and worlwide poverty are facts of life.
He could say all that — if he wants to lose.
The American people will not sit still for complex arguments.Â Even if they are well enough educated to understand those arguments, complex messages almost always lose to simple messages in today’s sound-bite world, even if the simple message is dead wrong.
So, here’s my suggestion for Obama’s next speech on the matter of energy costs and offshore drilling.
My fellow Americans,
We are facing an energy crisis today that is new in all our memories.Â No one alive today has ever seen anything like this.Â If we don’t act swiftly, we can expect many, many years of increased costs for everything, and lowered expectations for our children.Â Already, many of you are finding that things you once found easily affordable, like driving to work and buying food, are pinching your pocketbooks.Â I’ve spoken with many people who are angry about this — and they have a right to be angry.
The fact is, your leaders have failed you.Â By 1979, at the very latest, it was clear to any leader paying attention that the world would one day find itself addicted to oil, and that the oil would one day be used up.Â For a while, we were serious about conserving energy, soÂ that the day we used up all our oil could beÂ put off as long as possible.Â And we were serious about developing alternative forms of energy, so that we could oneÂ day put the oil addiction behind us.Â But the lobbyists and special interests, the oil companies andÂ oil-producing nations in theÂ Middle EastÂ and the like, soon convinced our leaders that oil addictionÂ is a good thing — or at the very least, that the special interestsÂ would contribute a great deal of money toward seeing that anyone who didn’t think oil addiction was a good thing didn’t get reelected.
The solution Republicans are putting forward today is just another addition to the same policy that has failed us for almost three decades.Â If I’m elected president, here is what I will do to alleviate the energy crisis so that we get a real solution — not a solution that makes us more dependent on an oil supply that will dry up, someday.
1.Â I will ask Congress to authorize offshore drilling to ease gasoline prices as soon as we can get more gasoline to the pumps, but ONLY to produce oil company profits at pre-crisis levels.Â Any additional profits will go to research into alternative energy sources so that we can beat this thing forever.
2.Â I will ask Congress to allow people to deduct the cost of travel to and from work.Â That will decrease commuters’ taxes, and provide them with more disposable income to pay for gasoline.
3.Â I will push hard for more money, a lot more money, to research and develop alternative energy technologies, and push to get those technologies on line as soon as possible.Â American ingenuity has not failed us in the past, and it will not fail us now.Â All it needs is seed money.
Voters have two starkly contrasting energy policies to choose from in the coming election:Â continue the failed policies of George W. Bush and other leaders who increased our dependence on oil, or take steps to free us from enslavement to the oil companies, oil-producing nations, and other special interests who care little for America, but a great deal for themselves.
This policy speech does good things for Obama’s campaign.
1.Â It acknowledges pain and anger, shows empathy, and tells people that the pain and anger is justified.Â This is classic customer-service practice for organizations that do customer service well.
2.Â It gives people a villain — leadership — that has mostly been Republican at the presidential level since 1979.
3.Â It ties current Republican tactics to the villains of the past and present (including oil-producing nations in the Middle East), as well as that always-useful populist bugbear: special interests.
4.Â It proposes solutions people can readily understand, and readily relate to the positive effect on their finances now and in the future.
5.Â It means that there will probably never be any offshore drilling, since oil companies can earn higher-than-pre-crisis profits from other sources.Â If they complain, they will have to use a complex argument against a simple one, which means they lose.
6.Â It ties McCain and other Republicans to George W. Bush, one of the most unpopular presidents in history.Â That fits in well with Democratic talking points, to date.