Political Hay

Having It Both Ways

Will the real John McCain (if there is one), please...

By 6.30.08

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John McCain feels very strongly both ways. No surprise here. This is often the case with politicians.

When regular walking around Americans hold two contradictory ideas or positions at the same time, we drag out fancy psychological terms like cognitive dissonance (and sometimes even a prescription pad), or just assume that the guy doesn't pack the I.Q. to see the inconsistencies.

When politicians ride off in two directions at once it can be the case that the guy (or gal) is just a dim bulb. But more often the politician is cynically dialing for votes by trying to simultaneously please different groups of people who want different things. The second is likely what's going on now with McCain and the moving targets he has made of his energy policies. Perhaps moving targets are no problem for an old fighter jock. But the rest of us are having a hard time locking on.

McCain has tried to work both sides of various policy streets, as most politicians do from time to time. But never so blatantly as his current switch-hitting on energy and oil drilling. His energy positions are not only contradictory, but they change faster than the Living Constitution changes. Miss a news cycle and you won't know which McCain energy positions are now inoperative. (Where's Ron Ziegler when you need him?) His policies on energy have so many twists they would give a snake a backache. I'm not sure Talmudic scholars could parse them.

A LITTLE REVIEW:

In spite of the fact that the demand for energy in America and the world is rapidly increasing, McCain has consistently opposed drilling for the large oil deposits in ANWR. In taking this eccentric (to put it charitably) position he aligns himself with those Lexus liberals who care more about the comfort of caribou and polar bears than they do about widows on fixed incomes trying not to freeze to death during New England winters. (Not that a few modern oil wells in ANWR would inconvenience Alaska's four-legged citizens in the least.)

McCain's stated reason for not drilling in a micro-patch of one of the most desolate spots on the planet is that ANWR is "pristine." Well, yes. ANWR is pristine -- in much the same way that the surface of Jupiter is pristine. And they look about the same. (ANWR is not the end of the world -- but you can see the end of the world from ANWR. And the end of the world looks better.)

This insane solicitousness of the comfort of obscure animals and abstractions excites the erogenous zones of environmentalists. But it's increasingly irritating to American voters paying $4 per gallon for gasoline and fearing that the ride to the top price is nowhere near over.

So whether or not McCain has seen the light, he at least has felt the heat. While still clinging to his no ANWR position, he announced on June 17 that he was in favor of drilling off the nation's coasts for oil, most of whose considerable reserves politicians have put off limits in order to cater to environmentalists and tourism interests unreasonably concerned about possible damage to beaches in the event of an oil spill. (Some of these folks still have nightmares of the oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, which took place in 1969 with 1950s and 1940s drilling and cleanup technology in place. Environmentalists encourage these nightmares.)

But even here McCain tries to have it both ways. He said we should recover offshore oil because the need for energy relief borders on a national emergency. But then says state officials should be allowed to decide whether or not drilling should take place off their states' shores.

For those of you puzzling over this, let me reassure you that you haven't missed a connection. This is a political, not a logical syllogism. McCain is actually saying that energy supplies are in crisis mode and we need to recover our offshore oil for the sake of the entire nation. But he would leave it up to state officials whether or not we can do this.

This is peculiar leadership.

MCCAIN'S CALL FOR MORE offshore drilling resulted in a predictable fertilizer storm from environmentalists, who began to call and write elected officials and editorial writers directly from their fainting couches. National and state-level Democrats ridiculed the idea that actually recovering more oil could have anything to do with the nation's energy supply. In Florida even numerous Republicans, including the incoming state House Speaker, remain opposed to offshore drilling.

In a priceless, but also sobering moment, one state Republican representative was quoted by the Tampa Tribune as saying, "The escalating rates, I have been told, are not due to the scarcity of oil, but to demand." If the Trib. reporter got this quote right, it certainly raises intriguing questions about the future of self-government. And makes you wonder who dresses this guy in the morning.

This kerfuffle didn't go unnoticed at McCain HQ. Engaging in a Republican specialty, the free-style retreat, McCain showed his energy resolve and his iron leadership Wednesday by putting it out through his campaign advisers that he really wants the prohibitions, passed two years ago, that keep most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off limits to drilling, to stay in force.

So there you have it. John McCain is four-square for recovering our offshore oil resources because we need them so badly, except that he wants the ban against recovering them to continue. In any case, he'll defer to state legislators, some of whom don't realize that scarcity and demand are related.

While we're pondering all this, I'll remind readers that offshore drilling may become moot if McCain succeeds in getting his insane cap and trade system for limiting carbon dioxide emissions through Congress and signs it into law. If, God forbid, this should ever happen, federal energy commissars would not let us use the offshore oil we've finally had the sense to recover.

Boy, it sure takes a lot of energy sometimes to understand energy policy.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.