On Tuesday John McCain bravely told cheering Houston oil executives that the U.S. should encourage more domestic oil production, especially drilling off US coasts, a proposal the White House will now front even though its long-run effect would be minimal. [More on the offshore drilling proposal from Mother Jones, and CNN notes McCain’s flip/flop (h/t Steve Benen at C&L)]
McCain then embraced the rationale and basic elements of Jimmy Carter’s energy policies from 30 years ago, policies that Reagan, Bush I and Bush II tried to starve.
As almost every US politician does today, McCain emphasized how our economic and national security are undermined by an overreliance on imported oil, especially from autocratic regimes hostile to the US. Carter gave a similar speech in the 1970s, except he wore a sweater and spoke next to a fireplace, while McCain spoke comfortably in an air conditioned room in one of the most air-conditioned cities of the US.
To end our oil addiction, Carter told the nation we should promote conservation, develop alternative energy sources and technologies, subsidize efforts to make coal-based energy cleaner, and rely much more on nuclear power. He proposed we begin to move away from reliance on imported oil by expanding domestic production and developing oil substitutes, such as liquid derivatives from coal. The same basic concepts were in McCain’s speech yesterday.
Jimmy Carter faced another oil crisis, also caused by US meddling in the Middle East in ways that sparked the Iranian revolution, OPEC oil embargoes, and a doubling and quadrupling of world oil prices. Bush has presided over a five- to six-fold price increase. John McCain has finally come around to Carter’s strategic assessment that our degree of dependence on oil is a danger to our security, but unlike Carter, McCain has not yet connected US military misadventures to our strategic energy vulnerabilities.
Thirty years ago, we realized that a critical piece of a sound energy policy is that the US should not start unnecessary, unprovoked wars in the Middle East. Promoting peace in the Middle East through negotiations among hostile parties made both security and energy sense. But McCain can’t connect these dots without conceding Obama was right and admitting his own advocacy of invading Iraq was a huge blunder. He can’t admit the link between today’s volatile oil markets and his advocacy of the surge, sabre-rattling on Iran, and telling the Muslim world he plans to stay in Iraq for a hundred years.
And McCain didn’t help matters with his intemperate condemnation of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that people indiscriminately swept up in Bush’s disastrous terror war and held indefinitely should be accorded the fundamental human right of having the government justify to an impartial tribunal why they’re being held. He shares that disdain with those oil producing nations with authoritarian regimes. But their citizens know whose nationals were tortured and held at Gitmo and Bagram, and they know McCain says it’s okay for the CIA and Bush to keep doing that.
McCain lamented today’s high energy prices — oil at $134/bbl, gas at over $4/gallon — and noted predictions they could go much higher. But he never linked the necessity of high prices — or taxes that might replicate them — to the economic viability of his preferred alternatives.
Spending only two lines on energy conservation, his only near-term solution was the gas-tax holiday scheme. Gasoline prices have already risen more than the tax of 18.4 cents/gallon in the two months since he first proposed the idea. So if we’d done exactly what McCain advocated then, gas prices would be about where they are today, except imports would be higher, the oil producers would be billions richer and the Highway Trust Fund would be short about the same amount.
McCain also managed to misrepresent Obama’s energy views on coal, taxes and climate change — likely a major purpose of the speech — but in the process he contradicted himself on global climate change, implying we should build more conventional coal plants. He did that by criticizing Obama for not advocating conventional coal, even though Obama, like McCain, consistently uses the terms "clean coal."
But don’t worry about this confusion; there will likely be a clarification today or perhaps tomorrow, since the straight talker’s campaign has already issued two different "clarifications" about his support (or is it opposition?) to the "mandatory" aspects of a cap-and-trade system. As best I can tell, McCain’s strategy appears to be to provide at least one statement in support of each side of every issue. I think he’s now got cap-and-trade surrounded.