The general tenor of the press is that Obama has abandoned principle to keep in step with a public that suddenly supports offshore drilling, plundering the strategic reserve, and prostituting mothers in order to bring gas prices down. The parallel assumption is that -- as a Republican -- McCain supports all of that anyway and so is somehow more genuine.
In one of those bend-over-backwards-to-place-a-pox-on-houses columns, Ruth Marcus credits McCain with an energy policy "in the ballpark of reasonable" that he plays down while pandering to the drill-now crowd. At the same time, she compliments Obama only for opposing a gas tax holiday before excoriating him for his proposal to tap into the strategic reserve. This has the effect of equating "drill now" with a moderate recommendation that is part of an overall policy which in Obama's case she doesn't review at all. Moreover, she gets Obama's position wrong, as he wants to replace one type of oil in the strategic reserve with another. Unfortunately, a reader wouldn't get either point from reading this column, ironically headlined in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as "Too much misleading on energy sources."
What are the Obama and McCain energy policies, anyway? Their respective websites outline both approaches (Obama's -- which includes the complete video of his energy policy speech earlier this week -- here and McCain's here and here). Interestingly, Obama integrates his statements on energy and the environment while McCain keeps them separate. This is a subtle but crucial distinction: Unintegrated energy and environmental policies will tend to work in opposition to each other, especially so under Republican leadership. When their presidential candidate squawks "drill now" like a mantra, you can be forgiven for thinking that McCain will inevitably continue the Bush/Cheney policy. This policy in the end puts our armed services at the disposal of energy interests to no benefit other than maximizing short-term profits. (And people think a windfall profits tax is un-American!)
McCain's web site says a great deal about what "should" happen and about what John McCain "believes" and "will promote" and "will ensure." There are gimmicks like a proposed $300 million prize For the "development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars." (He doesn't say who will pony up the 300 mil.) He endorses energy industry favorites clean coal, alcohol-based fuels, and nuclear power while paying lip service to solar, hydro, and wind-based energy while remaining silent on mass transit. And of course he opposes "isolationist" tariffs and a windfall profits tax.
His emphasis on nuclear power -- he wants to build 45 new plants -- is problematic to the point being chimerical. He can argue until he's blue in the face about the safety and utility of nuclear power and he might even convince a lot of people. But where is he going to find 45 communities that will accept a nuclear power plant within a hundred miles of its back yards? I'm reminded of a quip in Fiddler On The Roof: May God bless and keep the tsar...far away from us!
In contrast, Obama adopts much crisper language laying out short- and long-term policy goals of immediate relief for families, elimination of the need for Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil with ten years, creating green jobs and a greener economy, and reducing greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050. (McCain, incidentally proposes reducing them by 66%.) Incidentally, Obama does not support offshore drilling. He said that he could accept it as a necessary compromise to pass a comprehensive energy policy. By contrast, offshore drilling has become McCain's policy.
(Obama does commit the bureaucratic sin of using "implement" as a verb. Scroll down here to read that great Texan Maury Maverick, Jr.'s take on that.)
Beyond this is the question of credibility. Obama clearly articulates an activist policy for the federal government and he represents a party with a long commitment to a federal role in policy making of any sort. By contrast, after 24 years in the Senate, McCain has not forged a reputation for expertise in energy policy while representing a party that has allied itself directly and overtly with the oil and energy extraction industries. I haven't heard him renounce any of that, and when a louse like Phil Gramm has his ear, he's unlikely to in the future. Instead, he puts great faith in the false idol of the free market, a god whose efficiency and benefits are as overstated as its considerable deficiencies are ignored.
Energy independence is without question the single biggest national security issue facing our country. Neither candidate can say it without committing political suicide, but I will: The party's over. Five per cent of the world's population cannot continue to consume 25% per cent of the world's oil when it possesses only 1.6% of the world's proven oil reserves. The rapid expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies -- which represent over a third of the world's population -- are rapidly bringing this to a head. We can follow the "drill now" path and remained snared in the tar pit of Middle Eastern politics and religious cleavage or we can take control of our own destiny and do our part to clean up the world. No one says it will be easy. But just as dancing means paying the piper, throwing a party means cleaning up the mess after. And you can't party forever: Inevitably, you have to cut back on the drinking.