Following up on this — I think the Democrats have made a specific and costly error. Consider the following Republican argument:

  1. Americans are hurting from high gasoline prices; politicians must act.
  2. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of Congress to lower gasoline prices.
  3. Therefore, we must open up new areas to oil drilling.

Democrats have accepted No. 2, but they’re trying to fight off No. 3. They’re arguing that we can bring down gas prices by drilling on already leased land, or releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or cracking down on "price gouging."

It’s an untenable position and it’s not going to hold. If Congress has a responsibility to bring down gas prices by getting more oil to market, why stop with those things? Why not offshore drilling and oil shale too? This is where the Republican "all of the above" message gets its power. If you have a choice between a party that will do X for you, and a party that will do X+1 for you, what will you choose?

The crucial mistake is to accept No. 2.

Nobody will deny people are hurting; nobody will deny that for both political and substantive reasons politicians have to do something. But if Democrats accept that lowering gas prices is the only politically efficacious response, they are trapped on a battlefield on which they cannot win.

I talked to numerous Dem operatives about this last week, and I heard the same thing several times: Voters aren’t sophisticated enough to understand anything but "we’ll lower your gas prices." Anything else requires explanation, and voters don’t sit still for explanation. So that’s the field they have to fight on.

I think that misreads the situation and misreads voters. The drilling "movement" is a classically right-wing operation — top-heavy, fueled by corporate money, reliant on aggressive PR, and meant to intimidate D.C. decisionmakers. It is astroturf, not grassroots. Dems need to regain the courage of their convictions and start coordinating with their own grassroots around a simple — and substantively correct — counter-attack. I’ll sketch what I think it could be in my next post.