Gore's Energy Oomph

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, July 18, 2008

On the issue of gasoline prices, Republicans think they have a winner in their call for new drilling, and Democrats are playing defense. Democrats need -- this is a technical term -- a lot more oomph. Al Gore wants to help them.

In a speech here yesterday and in an interview, Gore played his usual role of unpaid party visionary by arguing that we can ease the climate crisis, the economic crisis and the crisis of dependence on foreign energy all at once.

"We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet," Gore said in his speech. "Every bit of that's got to change." He urges a 10-year goal of getting 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources and clean, rather than carbon-based, fuels.

It sounds like a typical, idealistic Al Gore idea. But two things about this proposal merit attention. It points a country that uses too much energy down the right path. And Gore is showing that being environmentally responsible is economically sensible.

Democrats should be concerned about where they are on the gas-price issue right now, and the party's own strategists are worried that its response so far is inadequate.

What the Democrats have been saying about the Bush administration's energy record is certainly true: The money that taxpayers threw at the oil and gas industry in Vice President Cheney's energy plan did nothing to help consumers at the pump.

And promises that more offshore drilling will magically bring down prices are not backed by the evidence. "We have been drilling for more oil, and the prices have gone up," Gore said in the interview. "A lot more oil has been found, a lot more has been produced."

In his speech, Gore uttered the disturbing truth that "the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise."

But voters have this odd view that when they face a problem, they want their politicians to do something. Drilling offshore sounds better than not acting at all. That's why John McCain flipped on the issue and now backs drilling.

In a survey report released last week by Democracy Corps, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and strategist James Carville concluded that their party has "not yet advanced a compelling narrative" on the problem of high gas prices and that "John McCain enters the offshore drilling debate with voters' favor."

In an otherwise upbeat report on Barack Obama's chances, they warn that the public "wants the government to act to address the immediate price consequences, and to act now for achieving energy independence in the medium and long-term."

"A majority of voters," they continue, "believe that coupling an investment in alternative fuels with increased domestic production of oil is preferable to alternative fuel investment combined with energy conservation alone."

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