In the spring, Democratic primary voters didn’t fall for misguided gimmicks on energy policy. But if recent polling is any indication, Americans in
July 31, 2008

In the spring, Democratic primary voters didn’t fall for misguided gimmicks on energy policy. But if recent polling is any indication, Americans in general are so worried about gas prices, many of them are actually falling for the scam being pushed by John McCain and the rest of the Republican establishment. A CNN poll this week found strong support for coastal drilling, and more than eight in 10 Americans believe laws on offshore drilling are contributing to the recent increase in gasoline prices.

Given this widespread confusion, and the fact that so many Americans have come to believe demonstrably false claims, Barack Obama took the offensive yesterday.

Mr. McCain’s corporate tax plan, he claimed, would yield $4 billion a year in savings for oil companies while his proposed federal gas tax holiday would pay for half a tank of gasoline over the course of an entire summer.

“So under my opponent’s plan, the oil companies get billions more and we stay in the same cycle of dependence on big oil that got us into this crisis,” he told more than a thousand people in a college gym here. “That’s a risk that we just can’t afford to take. Not this time.”

The Democratic candidate then turned to his own plan: A $150 billion investment over 10 years in alternative energies and fuels. (The funding of this plan is not entirely clear.) He counseled optimism, promising a transition to an economy based thousands of new businesses working on wind, solar and bio-fuels.

“We can’t have a policy that tinkers around the margins while going down an oil company’s wish list — it’s time to fundamentally transform our energy economy,” he said. These steps are not far-off, pie-in-the-sky solutions.”

First, this is the right message at the right time. Second, voters almost certainly didn’t hear a word about this, because someone used the phrase “race card” and the media, Pavlov-style, couldn’t resist.

On the first point, it seems the McCain campaign is betting the farm on energy. It was putting it all on Iraq, but now that Iraqi officials have endorsed the Obama policy, that’s a little trickier. Now, instead of lying about foreign policy, McCain has decided to lie about energy policy — telling voters that coastal drilling will offer “short-term” relief at the pump, that Obama is to blame for high prices, and that Obama wants to raise taxes on electricity. All of this is false, McCain knows that all of this is false, but McCain is doing it anyway.

Obama can’t very well sit back and expect cash-strapped voters to see through McCain’s shamelessly dishonest nonsense. And he certainly can’t expect the media to explain to the public that McCain’s rhetoric doesn’t meet reality. So, yesterday’s remarks in Iowa were a big step in the right direction — Obama’s right on the facts, and he needs to explain why so the public can better understand the issue.

The Democratic candidate has tackled the drilling question on two levels, as bad policy and as fundraising politics.

“It won’t lower prices today. It won’t lower prices during the next Administration,” he said. “While this won’t save you at the pump, it sure has done a lot to help Senator McCain raise campaign dollars.”

That last point can be a particularly compelling point, given that once McCain started lying about the benefits of coastal drilling, contributions from oil industry executives soared.

As for the media, news outlets largely ignored Obama’s remarks, apparently under the impression that voters don’t care about gas prices, and a substantive critique on energy policy just isn’t newsworthy right now.

Worse, the NYT (which reported on Obama’s speech on a blog, instead of running an article in the print edition), told readers, “The Republican candidate acknowledges drilling will have little short-term value.” In our reality, the Republican candidate actually said the exact opposite just three days ago, saying we could see the effects of coastal drilling “in a matter of months.”

In some ways, by embracing energy policy so enthusiastically, the McCain campaign is leading with its chin. Indeed, McCain’s policy is a bit of a joke — tax breaks for oil companies, a gas-tax holiday that benefits oil companies, and a coastal drilling plan that benefits oil companies. There is literally nothing in McCain’s plan that would lower gas prices either in the short or long term.

Obama made that abundantly clear, and his rhetoric had the added benefit of being true. Now, if only the media wasn’t quite so ridiculous — the “race card” talk dominated the morning shows. Natch.

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