Republicans have mastered a political technique that seems to work on Democrats every time: the projection of strength. No matter the issue, when it comes up for dispute Republicans claim that Americans support their position; they claim that Democrats are out of touch with ordinary folk; they claim that Democrats are on defensive; they put forward bill after bill, press release after press release, stunt after stunt, trumpeting their alleged advantage.

Faced with this predictable and oft-repeated tactic, Dems cave again and again. Told they’re on the defensive, they go on the defensive. They start trying to split the difference with the Republican position and shift the focus to other issues. And the public notices. Faced with a choice between bold wrongness and mealy-mouthed hedging, they’ll go with the wrongness.

It’s a weird form of hypnotism, and it’s playing out before our eyes in the energy debate. Republicans are widely loathed, they’re getting creamed on the economy, and with Obama’s overseas trip, creamed on national security, they know their presidential candidate is a dud, they’ve got no new answers on the energy crisis they helped create … yet they’ve got the entire D.C. establishment convinced that their drill-and-burn message is a winner.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

And Democrats are buying it; now they’re out emphasizing that they love drilling too! (Except here but not there, this lease but not that lease, this pace not that pace.) The entire Democratic Party has gone in to a defensive crouch, trying to match Republicans oil gimmick for oil gimmick — speculator-bashing, windfall profit taxes, use-it-or-lose-it legislation, etc. etc. They are showing the American public yet again that they are the choice for people who like less-Republican Republicans.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But it’s all based on a bluff. It’s BS. Dems are getting duped. It’s true that the public is concerned about gas prices, and it’s true they will support virtually anything that looks like bold action, but it’s simply not true that they are attached to drilling specifically. If they are polled in a way that sets drilling against other alternatives, other alternatives win. They want something done, but there’s no need to accept the Republican framing that something has to mean getting more oil in the market.

More on this in a subsequent post.