That '70s Show
President Bush draws the curtain on the administration’s energy policy tomorrow, but there’s not much anxious anticipation. This remarkably non-leaky White House has done a pretty good job drib-drabbing out the whole policy, so much so that you’ll be forgiven if you feel you’ve read the same story about what’s in the plan 10 different times.
Muckraker, however, has caught wind of a key memo that wasn’t supposed to be leaked, one that lays out how the administration intends to pitch the plan to the American public without getting burned.
All signs point to the memo’s author being none other than the famed Mary Matalin, a top advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. The veep, of course, heads the secretive White House energy task force.
Before we proceed, a disclaimer: We don’t have a copy of this memo and we can’t be 100 percent certain of its authenticity. But we trust the two sources who described its contents. If it turns out this is a bogus memo, or does not in fact emanate from the highest level, well, you’ve been warned.
Now, to the goods.
The memo strikes a note of caution: “I fear we are in the classic Democratic-Republican dynamic.” That is, the author of the memo believes the White House must not get caught in a mud fight of conservation vs. drilling; environmental protection vs. greater production; clean vs. dirty; consumer vs. corporate. Our sources say the memo makes clear that the White House believes that Republicans lose that fight more often than they win it.
So the Bushies will try to change the terms of the debate and, in the words of the memo, attempt to “Carterize the Democrats.” They will let you know that detractors in the Democratic Party and the environmental movement would like nothing more than to plop you back in the middle of the 1970s energy crisis when lines for gas snaked through neighborhoods and a besweatered Jimmy Carter pursed his lips and told you to flip off the lights, turn down the air conditioner, and eat your peas.
“Whoever captures the quality-of-life argument wins,” the memo says. Republicans must be seen as the party of the 21st century while Democrats must be viewed as the party of the 70s; Republicans must be seen as the party of abundance and boundless optimism while Democrats remain promoters of rationing and self-denial.
The American Way
Given all this, it should be no surprise that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the following at a press briefing last week when asked whether Americans need to “correct their lifestyles” to solve a potential energy crisis:
That’s a big no. The president believes that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy-makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. And we have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we’re able to get those resources in an efficient way, in a way that also emphasizes protecting the environment and conservation, into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day. … The president also believes that the American people’s use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy.
Look for a lot more of that kind of talk, not just from the White House, but from members of Congress, and, of course, the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, the giant coalition formed by energy companies to explain why the Bush plan is the only way to keep the lights burning and the DVD players humming in this great 21st-century land of boundless opportunity.
You can already see the rhetoric filtering out to the troops. One sharp Democratic operative pointed to this recent comment from Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), who argued that “rich, yuppie environmentalists are slowly but surely shutting this country down economically” with their talk of conservation and opposition to regulation-free exploration and production.
Will the environmental movement be able to counter this assault? They are certainly gearing up to do so.
The Spending of the Green
National Environmental Trust President Phil Clapp says green groups will spend more to counter the Bush plan than they have on anything in the past. Protests have been organized for the administration’s roll-out events on Thursday. Email campaigns will commence. A 12-city TV ad campaign to ream the Bush energy plan begins on Friday.
The groups should have eager allies on Capitol Hill as Democrats gear up to try to recapture both chambers of Congress in 2002.
It’s hard to exaggerate the stakes. Polls consistently show that voters care about the environment and have been taken aback by the administration’s early environmental policies. It is perhaps Bush’s weakest issue, though he has attempted to make a comeback in recent weeks. If green groups and Democrats can effectively paint the energy policy as a big fat gift to power producers that could put the environment in danger for decades to come, they will have a giant cannon in their 2002 arsenal. But if they stumble out of the gate looking like retreads from the ’70s bent on turning off the spigot of the American economy, then two more years in the minority almost certainly await the Dems.