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.

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