As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Media Plays Referee! Exclusive!

TIME Magazine actually goes ahead and tells the inconvenient truth.

How out of touch is Barack Obama? He's so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point; Rush Limbaugh is having a field day; and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled "Barack Obama's Energy Plan" to Washington reporters.

But who's really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.

It's a little stunning to see that in print. Calling out Republicans on their cheap and willfully stupid ploy? However did this happen?

Now, the second half of this is recognizing that this actually speaks to the inadequacy of drilling as much as the importance of proper car maintenance. Nancy Pelosi is actually doing something kind of smart - taking all the heat for blocking a vote on drilling while telling members of her party in tough elections to run against her. She knows that she'll be able to get a better deal in the next Congress if the Democrats can manage to win more seats. I'm not averse to this strategy. But it's really only a hop and a skip from a message that conservation works (which is the focus of the well-written TIME article) and a message that drilling for more meager supplies doesn't. As Al Gore has said, it's like a junkie looking for one last fix.

I think progressive environmental groups are right to call out Sen. Obama for backtracking on drilling. They're living up to their half of the Overton Window. I hope they also recognize the laudatory elements of the plan, including a focus on conservation, and these other innovative ideas:

In this energy plan, Obama recognizes that 837,000 troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As President, Barack Obama will ensure that more of our veterans can enter the new energy economy. He will create a new “Green Vet Initiative” that will have two missions: first it will offer counseling and job placement to help veterans gain the skills to enter this rapidly growing field; second, it will work with industry partners to create career pathways and educational programs.

Sent to fight a war on terror, many vets now know -- or will have to admit it soon enough -- that they ended up fighting an oil war instead; and there's a great danger lurking -- that they will feel used and sidelined after having served the nation at the risk of their lives. Embracing this fighting force and turning them toward the battle for a new global energy economy is simultaneously uplifting, pragmatic and healing.

Similarly, Obama recognizes the debt the nation owes to its auto industry, which for a century provided the backbone of American prosperity. It could not have been an accident that he chose to deliver his energy plan in Michigan, where he offered a vision of a bold future, way beyond what any US auto company CEO has ever dared to imagine: an industry revitalized by the manufacture of plug-in hybrid cars that get 150 mpg.

Obama will also provide $4 billion retooling tax credits and loan guarantees for domestic auto plants and parts manufacturers, so that the new fuel‐efficient cars can be built in the U.S. by American workers rather than overseas. This measure will strengthen the U.S. manufacturing sector and help ensure that American workers will build the high‐demand cars of the future.

At the heart of the plan is a target to put 1 million of these vehicles on the road by 2015, with the federal government a primary guaranteed customer. Nobody until now has floated a plan for the rescue of Detroit that makes so much sense, aligning the business success of the industry with both domestic job creation and national energy security.

I feel like I understand the "re-tooling" element of the auto industry rescue a lot better. Bailing them out is one thing - offering them free money to build plug-in hybrids is quite another.

I do wish he'd call out drilling as a gimmick - but the full-court press from the right has made that very difficult, because nobody got in front of this thing beforehand. Pelosi is being sharp by holding off the hordes until the next Congress, and Obama's plan does at least have a lot of commendable facets. The question is whether this new consensus on energy will be destroyed by the chip-chip-chip away of "Drill Now" Republicans who actually have a foothold due to the depressing cave from the Presidential nominee.

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