Thursday, June 19, 2008


By now, we thought the Republicans were going to be declaring that America had been stabbed in the back by liberals on Iraq, but Republicans aren't saying that (because they think the war is going swimmingly). But this New York Times editorial about offshore drilling reminds us that stab-in-the-back language is transferrable to domestic politics:

...A ... fiction, perpetrated by the oil companies and, to some extent, by misleading government figures, is that huge deposits of oil and gas on federal land have been closed off and industry has had one hand tied behind its back by environmentalists, Democrats and the offshore protections in place for 25 years.

The numbers suggest otherwise. Of the 36 billion barrels of oil believed to lie on federal land, mainly in the Rocky Mountain West and Alaska, almost two-thirds are accessible or will be after various land-use and environmental reviews. And of the 89 billion barrels of recoverable oil believed to lie offshore, the federal Mineral Management Service says fourth-fifths is open to industry, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaskan waters.

Clearly, the oil companies are not starved for resources. Further, they do not seem to be doing nearly as much as they could with the land to which they’ve already laid claim. Separate studies by the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Wilderness Society, a conservation group, show that roughly three-quarters of the 90 million-plus acres of federal land being leased by the oil companies onshore and off are not being used to produce energy. That is 68 million acres altogether, among them potentially highly productive leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska....

I appreciate the use of the phrase "one hand tied behind its back," given how frequently it's used by proponents of the stab-in-the-back theory of Vietnam.

But a right-wing idea doesn't have to be correct to be potent, especially in an election year. People such as Gail Collins may think that the public will see right through Republicans' calls for lifting restrictions on offshore drilling, but I can't help thinking about the people who said in 1988, "Oh, Bush won't get away with that Pledge of Allegiance stuff against Dukakis -- what the Duke is saying comes right from the state constitution!" If Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are going to stand firm in favor of current restrictions, I think they're going to have to do some careful pushback, explaining why in terms Joe Lunchpail can understand. Gas prices, especially if they hit $5 a gallon, really might be a bigger election-year issue than Iraq, and Democrats shouldn't underestimate the power of a pander.

No comments: