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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Winning the Energy Security Debate

Republicans believe they can now make the issue of energy security a winner for them by attacking Obama and Democrats for opposing drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas. In the New York Times political blog The Caucus, Michael Falcone writes about the new GOP meme launched by McCain, labeling Obama the “Dr. No” of energy policy and blasting him for opposing McCain’s proposals for expanded oil exploration, a summer gas tax holiday, more investment in nuclear energy and a $300 million prize to whoever creates a better car battery.
The GOP knows energy security is a potentially lethal issue for them, with gas prices so high and because they have done so little to promote energy independence. So they are following the Karl Rove playbook, which calls for full scale assault on the adversary’s strongest positions. They know that there is a well-documented link between low presidential approval scores and rising gas prices. But the Republicans have also noted a public opinion trend in favor of more oil exploration. An L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll conducted 6/20-23, for example, indicates 55 percent of respondents say drilling for oil in environmentally-important areas should be “allowed with proper controls,” compared to 24 percent opposed.
McCain’s comment that “exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial” provoked an incisive response from Senator Obama:

Psychological impact’?” In case you’re wondering, that’s Washington-speak for ‘It polls well.’ It’s an example of how Washington politicians try to convince you that they did something to make your life better when they really didn’t.

As for McCain’s proposal to have a $300 miliion prize for a scientist who builds a better battery, Obama said:

When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the Moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win. He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project.

Of course the cheerleader-in-chief joined the fray in support of McCain, blaming Democrats for high gas prices and calling for more drilling anywhere that even smells like oil. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman nailed him eloquently:

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is…This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program…But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

Friedman cites the GOP’s obstruction of the renewable erergy reforms as exhibit ‘A’:

People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies.
That seems to be exactly what the Republican Party is trying to block, since the Senate Republicans — sorry to say, with the help of John McCain — have now managed to defeat the renewal of these tax credits six different times….That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.

The Republicans’ scam to exploit discontent about rising gas prices to undermine the Obama campaign will work only if Dems fail to educate the public about McCain’s and the GOP’s long history of obstructing conservation and renewable energy reforms. Obama is responding well to the latest attacks. What’s needed from now until November is a barrage of Democratic ads that make it clear that (1.) energy independence is a cornerstone of our national security; (2.) that Republicans have failed repeatedly to defend our national interest on this critical issue; and (3.) Obama has the more credible reforms for lasting energy security.

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