10 June 2008
The exclamation that Upton Sinclair used to title the novel that was filmed as There Will Be Blood sounds a fitting note for the 2008 presidential campaign. The two major parties fought a skirmish in the U. S. Senate today, and oil was the subject. The Democrats proposed a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, among other measures, but still lack the votes needed to suppress a Republican filibuster. Defeat was inevitable, given Republican feeling, but the Democrats accepted it in the hope of forcing their foes onto unfavorable ground. The whole point of the exercise, some say, was to get Republicans to go on record as defenders, indeed friends of Big Oil. Democrats want to make the oil companies scapegoats for the rotten economy; in their version of events, hard times are made worse by speculation, price gouging and other shady practices. The Republicans pressed their own narrative, in which liberal environmentalists and Democrats are to blame for our woes, because they refuse to let Americans drill for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other sensitive areas. The GOP hopes that angry commuters and consumers can imagine no good reason not to get more oil out of American soil. They'll tell us that arrogant, elitist liberals and "radical" environmentalists care more for the caribou than for their fellow citizens or, indeed, the entire American economy. Answer with an honest estimate of how little impact new drilling would have in the long term, and Republicans will answer that every little bit will help the suffering masses. It's the same logic behind Senator McCain and Senator Clinton's calls for suspending the gas tax, and it was a preliminary good sign that Senator Obama resisted such rhetoric and survived the experience. He'll have to explain in detail what happened in Illinois, where he once voted for such a "holiday," to make him oppose the idea today. McCain, meanwhile, will have to square the Republican line with his own past opposition to drilling in the ANWR. He needs to square his dedication to the Teddy Roosevelt conservationist heritage with the modern Republican mentality that puts entrepreneurial needs before all else. Complicating matters further is dissension in conservative ranks. While some rightists adhere to the dogmatically optimistic view that there's plenty of oil for everyone, Bill O'Reilly, for one, isn't swallowing the black kool-aid. Not all conservatives nor all Republicans believe, as some seem to, that Big Oil can do no wrong, or that oil is the nation's blood. That makes it problematic for GOP senators to play the acolytes of oil as they did today. Unless they can convince the electorate that it is the liberals and the environmentalists' fault that gas is so high, this issue can only hurt them. All opponents of Republicans have to make sure they can answer the questions that are sure to arise during the campaign. The worst possible scenario would be for someone at a town meeting to ask Obama why we can't drill in Alaska and not get a clear, fact-based answer. Anyone who opposes Republicans needs to study the subject carefully. Don't take hearsay or conventional wisdom for granted. You may decide that new drilling is a necessary part of any transition to alternative energy, but unless that transition is part of the picture, that drill might as well be another needle in your arm.