The politics of Alternative Fuels: changing the subject Posted by: McQ
on Monday, May 22, 2006
Inveterate poll watcher Dick Morris again gets his crystal ball out and describes how Bush can "come back". Now, I've always considered Dick Morris to be about as politically amoral as one can be ... if his job is to win, he'll do what it takes to win. So I always find his insight useful given his track record. Whether I agree or not is an entirely different matter, but it is interesting to consider his analysis of polling data. For instance, and somewhat surprisingly, Iraq is not the top issue to most Americans right now. Gas prices are.
Asked to describe in their own words what issues they most hear people talking about, 29 percent mentioned gas prices, 13 percent cited Iraq, and only 9 percent reported hearing about immigration around the water cooler or the kitchen table.
Like I said, interesting. We political junkies forget that for most of the rest of the country, those things we find important rarely register with the majority of the nation. Issues which effect the pocket book do. Which makes you wonder why the growth of the econcomy isn't a subject which the administration is constantly touting.
But back to the topic at hand ... how does Bush use this information to improve his ratings prior to the November mid-terms and thus provide some coat-tails to Republicans in tight races?
The growth of the gas-price issue presents Bush with an incredible opportunity to change the subject of our political debate from a problem he can't solve before the 2006 elections - Iraq - to one he can begin to solve - gas prices.
Morris notes that there is a way to do this properly and way to do it improperly. And take the bit about this being a problem he can "begin to solve" lightly. I'll tell you why in a minute. But to address the improper way to change the subject, Morris says:
The danger for Bush, of course, is that he is an oilman. And a Texas oilman at that. Republican and Democratic populists alike reject the idea that the imbalance of supply and demand is driving up gas prices and report instead that they see a conspiracy of oil company executives at work. So long as he seems still an oilman, they see Bush as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
And they have a point. With oil stockpiles at near-record levels, the oil futures market seems to be irrationally betting on higher and higher prices, driving the costs ever upward.
Shorter version: avoid identification with big oil at all costs. Of course that means what? You've got it, alternative fuels. Morris's advice:
The key for the president is to show how independent he is of big oil by leading the movement toward alternative fuels in a big way. He should declare the equivalent of the bomb-building Manhattan Project and embark on a crash course to switch us from gasoline to alcohol- and hydrogen-based fuels.
By moving away from gasoline, he can rebut the presumption that he is in the pocket of the oil companies and become the leader of a national crusade against gasoline.
And he can bring it back to Iraq and the War on Terror - pointing out that his drive for alternative vehicle fuels is the key to disempowering the radical Islamists. Without our oil money, they are nothing. So, for Bush, the gas price issue is a twofer.
It's not bad political advice, and, given the majority of people really don't pay close attention to politics, it may work. It's all crap we've heard before, but as we and Dick Morris know, the American public has a short memory. At present, gas prices are the majority concern. Strike while the political iron is hot and use that to political advantage.
But we shouldn't expect much out of this type of strategy in reality (even with the declaration of an alternative fuel "Manhattan Project") as it is a short term strategy devised to bear fruit by November. After that Morris knows there will be some other issue on the front burner which will consume attention around the water cooler, and, as it has since the Carter era, the unfulfilled promises for alternative fuel research and development will fade into the political ether.
But if Bush grows some coat-tails and Republicans win in '06, why would Morris care?
Of course, Tom Friedman has been begging Bush to do this since 2000. And though we know the administration reads Friedman, nothing of the sort has happened. The conclusion I’m compelled to draw? Bush is simply uninterested in such a move. Why, I’m not sure.
It’s not bad political advice, and, given the majority of people really don’t pay close attention to politics, it may work. It’s all crap we’ve heard before, but as we and Dick Morris know, the American public has a short memory. At present, gas prices are the majority concern. Strike while the political iron is hot and use that to political advantage.
But to do that, Bush would have to have some credibility - both generally and on this issue in particular. Right now, he has none on both counts. Moreover, after 5 years, the public sense of Bush is firmly entrenched. He is an oil man, first and last. People elected Bush not because they thought he would go "green," but because he would secure our sources of oil. Now that it is clear he has no pull in that regard, he’s toast on the issue.
That’s why November of ’06 will be about gays, gays, gays. And about how the Dems want us to lose in Iraq. That’s it.
The problem with Morris is that he doesn’t care whether there EXISTS an alternative to gasoline or not. He is so political that the real physical problem just doesn’t register with him. He will advise saying or doing ANYTHING to get the votes.
The problem for Bush is that there is NO alternative for gasoline within any political timetable. Saying we’ll start a "Manhattan Project" for a replacement for gasoline can only mean designing and building a fleet of new nuclear reactors just to make hydrogen to transform coal or heavy oil into liquid hydrocarbons. That will take 20 years before the first "alternative" gets sold commercially, at best.
If Bush started promising an alternative when he knows better, he’d be on the same moral plane as Dick Morris. I don’t think that is the case.
This time he has motivation not to lie. Bush actually is an oil man, promoting alternative fuels will harm the oil price and cost him personally millions of dollars. A practical incentive not to snowjob the American people into wasting billions of dollars of public spending.