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August 11, 2008

On Energy, Republicans Find Ways to Mock Common Sense


Last week, at an Obama rally in the battleground state of Michigan, we got a glimpse into how things in this country have degenerated. Outside the arena, Republican volunteers were passing out tire gauges to mock the Democrats’ suggestion that properly inflated tires can help people out more than offshore drilling.


Obama’s was a common sense suggestion, one that promises immediate benefits for people who heed it. Republicans, naturally, somewhere in there found a reason to mock. The GOP, reading polls but not the news, had its own plan and another stunt.


About the same time that Obama landed in Michigan, House Republicans gathered in a darkened chamber to protest that they’d been sent on recess without voting on drilling. They stayed there for most of the week, and have promised to return this week, railing against Democrats and environmentalists in the dark in hopes of generating headlines.


Although members of the protesting Republicans made much of their efforts – comparing it to the Boston Tea Party at one point – it was chiefly a piece of political theater. By the end of the week, they were reduced to not only attacking Nancy Pelosi for not giving them a vote on drilling, but also George W. Bush for going to Beijing and the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. One shudders to think how history might have turned out if the real Boston Tea Party had been carried out with that kind of competence.


A thing happened, however, while the Republicans were pulling stunts in both Lansing and Washington. The price of crude continued what has been a slide that has lasted a few weeks. Reaching its peak in early July, some energy analysts are beginning to think that the price of gasoline, which the Department of Energy had estimated would stay above $4 into next year, could fall to $3.25 a gallon by Labor Day.


In some ways, the fall has been surprising. Political unrest in oil-producing nations helped prices spike, and continued last week. The world is hardly a more stable place today than it was a month ago, and fears over supply contractions helped drive prices up. The question is how much of that spike was caused by speculation.


Yet, prices fell, and fell at least in part because of reduced demand. That is, in response to higher gasoline costs, people have started figuring out ways to reduce the impact to their home budgets. This is the summer of the staycation. People are actually, genuinely embracing energy conservation by walking when possible. Ridership for public transportation is up, and so is demand for bicycles.


A party genuinely interested in helping people would look to those things and see how they could be folded into a long-term solution.


Instead, from the GOP, we get stunts and political theater. We’ve been hearing for the last several months that the price of oil is a problem of supply and demand. True, perhaps, but that means two sides of the equation. There is increasing supply, and there is reducing demand.


The one – increasing supply – was never going to help anyone but the oil companies. The amount of oil in America’s reserves would be a trickle on the worldwide market, would have negligible impact on U.S. gas prices and might even wind up being burned in China, India and other economies that threaten to overtake our own (if this kind of thing concerns you). That it would take a decade to get to market only exposes it as the shallow sham that it is.


The immediate answer, pushed quietly by Democrats, was to reduce demand through conservation and other common sense things. It’s also been the thing that’s provided the most immediate relief. Who knew that while trying to mock Obama in Michigan, Republicans were unintentionally handing out tools for individual self-empowerment?


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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