Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Playing A Losing Hand

Putting words into politicians' mouths long ago became a cottage industry with the end game having little, if anything, to do with what a politician actually says and everything to do with getting an opposition politician elected. Fortunately, the current candidates for President of the United States, Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Barack Obama, have done enough talking, if only barely so, to permit an analysis of their positions without guessing too much.

In this installment of RWB, we look at McCain's platform. At first blush, it's neither pretty nor very useful for a country more in need of considered analysis of real problems than of trite, pat responses to pressing problems.

With a five-month head start on Mr. Obama in his campaign for the White House, Mr. McCain has had ample opportunity to define himself as a leader ready to solve the serious problems facing the United States. Unfortunately, though Presidential candidates rarely speak to the specifics of their platforms until after the nominating convention, Mr. McCain has taken this standard to the extreme.

Initially, Mr. McCain was mum on nearly every subject of importance to the American public, save his commitment to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until the end of time. The gamble that Mr. McCain was playing with this ploy was that the war in Iraq would be the defining policy issue in the November election. Of far less significance, he too gambled, would be the issues that he largely has ignored, issues such as health care reform, alternative fuels, and the economic recession.

Mr. McCain gambled. Mr. McCain lost.

On his website, Mr. McCain cursorily addresses the energy crisis facing the United States. Not surprisingly, the Senator has one meaningful solution to breaking the U.S. of its dependence on Middle East oil. That solution, of course, is off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. McCain argues that off-shore drilling will supply the United States with 55,000 barrels of oil a day. That's the extent of the basis for Mr. McCain's "energy policy."

Allowing Mr. McCain his pre-convention brevity, what should be disconcerting to the Senator is the Energy Department's recent release of data regarding Americans' gas consumption in 2008 versus 2007. The study paints a picture not only of significantly decreasedconsumption but also suggests the preposterousness of Mr. McCain's attempt to fashion an energy policy around off-shore drilling.

The Energy Department reports that Americans drove 12 billion fewer miles in June of 2008 than they did in June of 2007. Not coincidentally, Americans reduced their daily oil consumption by 800,000 barrels in the first half of 2008. That reduction has reduced global demand for oil and helped ease the price of a barrel of oil $30 in the past month.

Given these numbers, Mr. McCain's dilemma should be evident. As he crafts an energy policy around off-shore drilling with an optimistic production projection of 55,000 barrels of oil per day, simple changes in driving habits, alone, have reduced U.S. daily oil consumption by nearly 20 times that figure. By pandering to the public on a platform of finding oil at home as the solution to the U.S. energy crisis--rather than finding and funding alternatives to oil--Mr. McCain is offering a policy that is infinitely worse than what we currently have. Offering a panacea will only drive consumers back to square one without resolving any of the underlying problems, and it will do so at the risk of drilling in unstable areas.

As only very much of an afterthought, Mr. McCain suggests that we need to look at alternative fuel options. But, as if to put a fine point on his lack of imagination and weddedness to staying the old course, he simply cannot resist lumping into this category of "alternative fuel" options, the by-product of off-shore drilling, off-shore oil. It would be comical if it were not so tragic.

As for Mr. McCain's other policy initiatives, it appears there are none. Not even Iraq seems any longer to be a key component of Mr. McCain's campaign, as the Senator works feverishly to distance himself from an increasingly unpopular Bush Administration. For a candidate with a long advantage over his opponent, Mr. McCain, thus, truly has done very little with a lot--not exactly an enticing prospect after eight years of even less.

Up Next: Obama's Pre-Convention Speak.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Voters Ready to Eschew False Light

Remember when the Administration of George W. Bush first took office amidst promises that the "adults" were in charge? Seems like a long time ago. Remember when they repeatedly failed to deliver on promises of professionalism and accountability? That seems both long-standing and fresh.

With disastrous decision following disastrous decision flowing from the White House, 2008 would seem to be precisely the worst time for the Republicans to run a political campaign for the White House featuring more sophomoric ads portraying the democratic candidate in unflattering terms. But that all seems lost on a Republican Party strategy team that continues to impress upon an increasingly alert constituency that it cares more about building straw-men rather than establishing a meaningful dialogue on the many significant issues facing the United States.

The Republicans, of course, have many issues from which to select. They could discuss Iraq, health care, government waste and corruption, or numerous other issues that the current administration either has created or made infinitely worse. Those all would be welcome talking points for presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain.

Instead of discussing adult issues at a time when the country most desperately needs such discussion, however, Mr. McCain has adopted campaign methodology too-long promoted by Karl Rove and company; it is a decision that almost certainly will spell defeat for Mr. McCain in November.

By attempting to paint presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in a false light, rather than focusing on the substantive policy differences between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, the Republicans are making clear that they believe both that their candidate is the weaker of the two candidates on substantive issues and that the voting public, if not inundated with distractive ads, will see the candidates for what they are and vote for Mr. Obama.

We've seen this song and dance many times in the past and, unfortunately, to great effect for the Republicans. Al Gore was going to shut down all non-ecobusinesses in the U.S. and raise taxes; John Kerry was going to force everyone to hug trees and raise taxes; Obama, we are told, will be far worse. This is a different era, however--a point apparently lost on those currently fashioning the Republican talking points.

With the recent revelation that Iraq is growing rich at the expense of the American taxpayer and the current administration's farcical call for Russia to retreat from Georgia under the principle of sovereignty of nations, it is, of course, difficult for Mr. McCain to continue to campaign on his commander-in-chief platform when he is lockstep with the President on Iraq. But there are those other issues, issues upon which the nation will turn dramatically over the next decade.

The quandary for Mr. McCain is how to extricate himself from those calling the shots for the Party. The sad answer for Mr. McCain is that appears to be too late for such considerations. And so Mr. McCain latches on to the antics.

For eight years, Americans have wallowed in their razor thin decisions in 2000 and 2004. As they attempt to make silk out of sow's ear after such carnage, they are left to decide between two candidates who have taken far different approaches in their campaigns. While Mr. McCain has allowed the Republican Party to co-opt his campaign, Mr. Obama continues with his theme of solving problems. No greater disparity is evident than in the ads that the two candidates currently are running. As Mr. McCain focuses on casting Mr. Obama in negative, even false light in his ads, Mr. Obama has countered with policy-oriented ads. After eight years of false light, the voting public appears finally ready to demand better.

Up Next: Defining Sovereign Rights.