Problem is, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; Dems get intimidated into hedging and equivocating, while the right pounds home a consistent, clear message: drill here, drill now, pay less.
First off, Dems need to remember that the public trusts them over Republicans on energy — by 42 percent to 22 percent in a new WSJ/NBC poll — and they aren’t buying the Republican spin. Dems still have credibility and authority on this issue. Now is the time to repay the trust of the American people by telling some difficult truths. Americans are ready to be treated like adults.
The counter-message will have to be packaged with some catchy slogans, of course, but substantively it should convey four things:
- Gas prices aren’t coming down.
They may fluctuate in the short-term, but over the long term they’re going nowhere but up, no matter what any politician does. If a politician tells you they can lower gas prices, they’re lying to you, treating you like a child. Once this basic truth sinks in, however uncomfortable it may be, we’ll be on a whole new political battlefield.
- Congress can offer immediate relief.
There are plenty of ways to offset the pain of higher gas prices by lowering other costs, particularly for the hardest hit — everything from direct tax rebates to bumps in the EITC to expansions of healthcare coverage. If Republicans would allow Dems to pass a cap-and-trade system with auctioned permits, there would be revenue available to manage an equitable transition away from gas and other fossil fuels, for everyone, forever.
- The way to reduce the cost of gas to American families is to help them use less gas.
This must be pitched not as something politicians do to voters, but something we, as a country, do together. The American people are already cutting back on gas consumption; let’s put our heads together and figure out ways public policy can help make it easier. The House Energy Committee held a hearing on Wednesday about just this subject, where tons of great ideas were thrown around (I particularly recommend Skip Laitner’s testimony) — policies to encourage telecommuting, carpooling, and four-day work weeks; funding on-hold regional public transit projects; crusher credits for old cars; mileage-based car insurance; feebates; educational programs to encourage better auto maintenance. These are policies that can provide relief now, unlike, say, offshore drilling.
- Freedom from fossil fuels means security and stability.
The general public equates the price of gas with energy prices generally, largely because it’s one of the few price signals they see several times a day. Dems need to make that point that it’s not just gas — fossil fuel prices, which are almost completely outside our control, are fluctuating in the short term and rising in the long term, across the board. Our overreliance on fossil fuels is unstable, unpredictable, and unsustainable. Meanwhile, American sun, wind, tides, and heat are 100 percent domestic, free in perpetuity, predictable, and inexhaustible. While fossil fuel prices rise, renewable energy prices are falling.
That’s a big mouthful, so here’s how I see, say, Nancy Pelosi using this message the next time she’s asked about Republicans’ drilling bills:
We prefer to treat Americans like adults and tell them the truth. Gas prices, like all fossil fuel prices, are only going to keep rising, drilling or no drilling. We will offer immediate financial relief for working and middle class Americans, but most of all we must accelerate the transition to clean, reliable, domestic sources of renewable energy. With more choices — in how we get around, how we heat and cool our homes, how we power our factories — we free Americans from their dependence on expensive gasoline and free America from its addiction to expensive fossil fuels. That is how we rescue and revive our economy.
Or if you need something pithier: “More choices for a healthier economy.“
Republicans would go ballistic. They would accuse Democrats of trying to enforce a horrific, Stalinist program of forced privation on the American people. They would keep right on lying about drilling and gas prices.
But voters are uniquely open to a new message right now. They’re sick of fossil fuel anxiety, sick of being stuck on the fossil roller coaster, and in that situation, choice is an immensely appealing pitch. Dems don’t need to concede the need for drilling and mining; they don’t need to concede the need for more fossil supply. The green path is better for the American economy, American security, and American quality of life. It’s time for Dems to get out of their defensive crouch and deliver that message from a position of strength and confidence.