Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts

8/08/2008

Lame Political Discourse: Tire Gauges

Fresh off of the controversy surrounding Paris Hilton in a John McCain attack ad, the latest episode of political nonsense stems from Barack Obama's suggestion that Americans ensure that their tires are properly inflated and that their cars are properly maintained so that they can improve their gas mileage and help use less oil. John McCain and Republicans seized on this comment by claiming it was indicative of Obama's naivete by being overly simplistic. McCain even turned this into a fundraising tool by showing the image of a tire gauge with the misleading term "Obama Energy Plan" written on it. In response, Obama labeled the attacks and ridicule as ignorant.

Properly inflating your tires and getting regular tune-ups is obviously not a comprehensive solution to our nation's energy crisis. However, Barack Obama is not saying that it is despite Republicans' outright lies to the contrary. Obama is on record for supporting increased fuel efficiency standards, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, and even offshore drilling as part of a compromise solution. And regarding tires and tune-ups, Obama even said that it was simply something we could all do now--obviously just one component of an overall energy solution. Will anyone call Republicans out on this distortion?

According to Time and Politifact, Obama's solution both makes sense and is factually sound. Inflating your tires and getting regular tune-ups is a good first step for several reasons:

1) It can be done now, so the savings can be felt immediately.
2) It requires no big government intervention.
3) It is not dependent on Congress reaching a compromise and the President signing a bill.
4) It makes our roads safer because cars that are properly maintained are less likely to break down.
5) It has no adverse environmental impact.
6) It encourages personal responsibility.
7) It actually works, thus increasing fuel economy, saving money, and using less oil.

The fact that Obama is advocating an immediate and legitimate solution that encourages personal responsibility and needs no government solution would suggest that conservatives and Republicans should embrace his message. But instead, they are mocking him out of partisan blindness. Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican and possible McCain running mate, has made the exact same recommendation. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California also echoed this approach. Where was the ridicule then?

Voters who are joining in ridiculing Barack Obama for this solution are akin to those who dismiss common sense approaches to protecting their children from inappropriate content on television. You could propose increased fines for indecency, V-chips in all televisions, or even outright bans on adult or violent content. Those are all solutions with various degrees of merit. But they take time to implement and require lots of compromises, as do offshore drilling, taxing oil companies, and harnessing renewable energy sources. But a common sense approach that everyone could adopt immediately to protect their children is to take greater control over what their children watch by watching television together or restricting the times in which their children are allowed to watch it. Of course that won't solve everything, just as properly inflated tires won't solve all our energy problems, but at least it's something that can be done now and is something that actually works. So again, why the ridicule? Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune suggests that these sophomoric jabs might be misplaced.

It will take years before the oil obtained from offshore drilling can actually be pumped into our gas tanks. But Republicans are right to argue that we should have started drilling years ago because we had these exact same arguments during the 1990s.

It will also take years before automakers are able to mass produce automobiles that run on more environmentally-friendly sources of fuel. But Democrats are right to argue that we should have increased fuel efficiency standards years ago. President Jimmy Carter was right to make energy conservation and fuel efficiency central issues of his presidency 30 years ago, but he was relentlessly mocked for it. Everybody remembers the sweater he wore during his "malaise speech," but the overall point of his message fell upon deaf ears. Obama tire gauges now are the new Carter sweaters.

Republicans are mocking Obama for not being serious about energy and are essentially trying to turn him into a cartoon or a laughing stock. But this abject lack of maturity in their response to this solution is appalling. By mocking Obama, they are essentially saying that getting tune-ups is not important and that it's okay if you drive with underinflated tires. They are also saying that even though Obama's solution actually works and incorporates conservative principles of small government and personal responsibility, it shouldn't be taken seriously, thus further exacerbating our nation's energy problems. And by falsely reducing Obama's overall energy policy to something you can buy at your local Auto Zone, Republicans are banking on voters' ignorance and lack of sophistication.

These voters should be offended, not tickled. Instead of joining the chorus of voices who are laughing at Obama, they should be asking John McCain and Republican operatives why this is even a laughing matter to begin with.

This kind of childishness makes me wonder how many people are supporting Obama not because they endorse his liberal policies, but rather because they are tired of the inane debates over freedom fries, flag pins, middle names, and now tire gauges. To these voters, would a McCain victory be seen as a tacit approval of this kind of nonsense while an Obama victory direct repudiates it?

Both political sides are guilty of overheated rhetoric, intellectual dishonesty, fact tweaking, and petty namecalling. Neither side is immune to hysteria, fear-mongering, feigned outrage, and mudslinging. But abject ignorance is an even worse offense and speaks volumes about the politicians who prey on it and the voters who buy into it.

6/21/2008

McCain's Energy Policy and the Electoral Map

The rising cost of oil has prompted politicians and President Bush to come up with various proposals to ease the pain caused by record high gas prices and rising demand from other nations. In addition to pursuing green energy sources, many of the proposed solutions center around increased domestic exploration--that is, drilling in Alaska and off the coasts of California and Southeastern states. These proposals have been debated before, but what makes this latest round of debate particularly intriguing is the fact that John McCain has come out in favor of ending the ban on offshore drilling. This is significant because it represents a policy reversal that opens him up to charges of flip flopping, pandering, or even being in lockstep with President Bush, who also supports ending the ban.

There's one other reason why McCain's reversal on this issue deserves further scrutiny. The presidential election is less than five months away and this position threatens his chances of holding onto a state he can ill afford to lose--Florida, the largest red state after Texas.

Offshore drilling has historically been terribly unpopular in Florida. John McCain's reversal on lifting the ban is likely a risky proposition in the Sunshine State. The beach is one of Florida's greatest assets and is a major part of the state's tourism industry. The mere thought of seeing oil rigs on the horizon from the coast does not appeal to Floridians, even if the rigs are so far away from the coast that they can't be seen at all. The reason for this is that they fear the presence of these rigs will spoil their beaches or hurt tourism. And any environmental incident concerning offshore drilling would conjure up images of the Exxon Valdez disaster from 20 years ago. An oil spill off the Florida coast could potentially devastate the environment as well as the state's economy.

So even though offshore drilling might make for sound energy policy, it's also more likely to be a political loser. Given Obama's recent decision not to accept public financing, he will surely have the resources necessary to contest Florida. Attacking McCain on his energy policy as it pertains to Florida could be quite damaging to the Arizona senator's chances of keeping this state red in November. There has even been talk about McCain competing in California as well, but any talk of offshore drilling there will immediately end any chances he has of putting that state in play.

Of course, McCain is banking on voters' anger with $4 gas superseding their reservations concerning offshore drilling. It is not a short term solution, but it does at least give voters evidence of leadership and offering concrete solutions to addressing the nation's energy problems. This could contrast well with Barack Obama, who is still battling concerns about his inability to talk in specifics. McCain's proposal allows him to challenge Obama by saying, "You may not like my plan, Senator Obama, but what's your plan?"

This could be an effective line of attack for McCain, but there remains the possibility that Floridians will recoil at the notion of drilling off of their pristine coast. And that brings us back to political reality.

The importance of Florida cannot be overstated. It is the third largest state in the nation, but unlike California and New York, it is actually politically competitive. Florida is essentially John McCain's firewall. It is the largest light red state on the map. If McCain loses Florida, this election is over. A Democrat can win the White House without Florida. A Republican can't. Losing Florida would force McCain to win Michigan and Pennsylvania. And if he can't win both, he would have to win at least one along with a medium-sized state, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Oregon.

Barack Obama will have a tremendous cash advantage against John McCain, so he'll have more money to spend on advertising and GOTV (get out the vote) operations that can help defend him against McCain's attacks. And because Barack Obama didn't campaign in Florida (or Michigan) because of the impending sanctions from the Democratic National Committee, he has a lot more potential room for growth there.

Energy may be a contentious issue that all voters want addressed, but the violent reaction from Floridians that may come from this latest debate illustrates one of the ugly truths about voters' hypocrisy when it comes to energy policy. We want offshore drilling, but only on another state's coastline. We want to use less foreign oil, but only if we can still drive our trucks and SUVs. We want nuclear energy, but only if we can store the waste somewhere far away from us. We want to drill in the wilderness of Alaska and the Mountain West, but only if the surrounding ecosystems are completely undisturbed. True solutions to our energy woes will require politically unpopular leadership.

Offshore drilling may be a valid solution to enhance the nation's domestic energy portfolio and drive down prices over the long term. But the current political reality may make this a foolish decision. McCain is displaying true courage by coming out in favor of offshore drilling. And perhaps high gas prices have caused Floridians to reconsider their stance on the issue. If this is the case, then McCain could keep the state and its 27 electoral votes in the Republican column. But when one considers how much larger Obama's electoral map is, the last thing McCain should do is cede his rival yet another powerful political issue that could threaten the second largest state in his path to 270.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.