One of the all-time great episodes of The Simpsons is “Marge vs. the Monorail,” written by Conan O’Brien. The EPA fines Mr. Burns for dumping nuclear waste, leading to an unexpected cash windfall for Springfield. Marge suggests spending the money to repair the town’s tattered infrastructure.

But just as her proposal is about to pass, a fast-talking charlatan named Lyle Lanley arrives and sells the ever-gullible people of Springfield on a plan to build a monorail, climaxing with the monorail song (sung to the tune of “Trouble” from The Music Man). As the monorail plan passes, Marge remains unconvinced:

Marge: I still think we should have used the money to fix Main Street.
Homer: Well, you should have written a song like that guy.

Now Newt Gingrich is ready to march into the halls of Congress to deliver his petition on opening up more of America’s public lands to oil and gas drilling. He even still has floor privileges, so you can almost imagine him marching through the House with Republican leadership trailing behind, chanting drill, drill, drill.

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But drilling wouldn’t solve our problems any more than the monorail solved Springfield’s. Fortunately, we couldn’t ask for a less-beloved figure to be trying to lead the American people in a sing-a-long. Would you believe he’s nearly as unpopular as Dick Cheney?

If there’s anyone who proves time may not necessarily heal all wounds, it’s Newt. Nearly a decade after he resigned from the House with an approval rating of just 28 percent, a 2007 poll showed remarkable 54 percent of Americans still held an unfavorable opinion of Gingrich. Cheney was only slightly less popular, rated unfavorably by 57 percent of those polled.

It’s not that Newt hasn’t tried to rehabilitate his image. It seems like every year he has a new Big Idea to save health care or whatever his issue du jour might be. It doesn’t help that Newt comes off like he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and why won’t all us rubes just listen to him.

But Newt’s real problem is that he’s constantly — and all too transparently — trying to sell us a monorail. He’s lurched from health care to immigration to fighting global warming with tax cuts. His Big Ideas are frequently tied to his Big Donors — in this case, Big Oil.

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Gingrich is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has received nearly $2 million from ExxonMobil since 1998. AEI’s board of trustees includes former ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Lee Raymond, who retired in 2005 with a reported $400 million compensation package. During Raymond’s tenure, ExxonMobil spent millions to thwart a transition to alternative energy sources by funding climate skeptics.

AEI also made headlines in February 2007, when the Guardian reported it had offered a $10,000 bounty to scientists and economists for articles undermining a key report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In addition, as an Alaska Wilderness League report [PDF] details, Gingrich’s 527 group has received extensive contributions from donors with strong ties to the oil and gas industries.

Where most Americans see an energy crisis, Newt Gingrich sees an opportunity to lock in big profits for his friends at Big Oil. More drilling on America’s public lands would have no short term impact on gas prices but would lock in massive profits for the oil and gas industries for decades.

But even by using false claims in his pitch, Gingrich couldn’t even convince one-half of one percent of the American public to sign the petition — coincidentally enough, about the same percentage gas prices might come down more than a decade from now if we pursue these policies.

Gingrich’s scheme is simply an extension of the same failed policies that have created this energy crisis in the first place, and Americans know we can’t drill our way out of it.

For some key talking points to help you debunk the drilling myth, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s Don’t Be Fooled [PDF] fact sheet. To learn more about how clean energy can cut our energy bills and create jobs, take a look at Recharging America’s Economy. Also, I heard something about some big speech about clean energy last week which someone mentioned was worth checking out.

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