Putting aside the causes of the oil-price rise and what the future holds, I am concerned that progressives are losing the public debate about what to do about it. Like David, I was extremely disappointed with Gore’s interview on Meet the Press this past week, both with respect to the ridiculous questions from Brokaw and Gore’s complete inability to get the right message across.

And now we have an editorial from The Wall Street Journal (as well as John McCain himself) making the absurd claim that Bush’s lifting of the offshore oil drilling ban is responsible for the recent drop in oil prices. Since I am assume both McCain and the op-ed writer are smart enough to know that this is false, one can only assume they are willing to lie because they think that this presents an opening for the rightwing in a season when they look doomed.

Unfortunately, data exists to back up this belief, as the public’s support for offshore oil drilling is rising. The simple fact is that when costs of energy go up, most people are willing to put aside environmental concerns, including global warming.

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This is why it is crucial that progressives, and especially the Obama campaign (who brilliantly won the gas tax holiday debate during the primaries), need to adopt an aggressive strategy for winning over the public on energy issues.

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Here’s what I think should be the central message:

  1. There are no quick fixes like the Republicans want you to believe, but if we do this right, energy will not only be cleaner and from domestic sources in the future, but it will be cheaper too. If we can get a national energy plan for electric plug-ins we’ll be able to drive 150 miles for the cost of one gallon of gas. But it’s going to take some time to get there, and we need a steady commitment. Drilling helps the Chinese more than us and it’s a backwards strategy that threatens our coastal waters and national heritage, and hands the oil companies another gift.
  2. In the meantime, since we’re going to have to suffer through higher energy prices for a while, we are going to focus on other core economic concerns that are actually hurting you more than the price of oil. We know that it’s hard to watch the numbers run up at the pump, but remember, the price of health care, stagnating wages, and the cost of college tuition and preschool are much greater burdens. We’re going to lessen these costs in a big way to help us through this tough time.

This is not only the correct strategy, but the only way to beat the rightwing PR machine that knows that pocketbook issues dominate right now. If progressives can craft an effective two-pronged strategy they will win this issue.