Comparing Energy Plans
Iraq is no longer the key issue of the 2008 presidential election. Neither is the economy in general. The focus now rests mostly on the high price of gasoline; whoever can win on this issue will probably win the election.
John McCain has a well-articulated plan to deal with the problem—in one of the few neat rhetorical touches found in his campaign, he calls his plan the “Lexington project”, which sounds goal-oriented and interesting. The key component of his strategy involves drilling for more American oil and natural gas, solutions so obvious that is shocking that they aren’t already standard U.S. policy.
McCain also supports nuclear power, another glaringly obvious energy solution, which would solve many of America’s power troubles. (In addition, nuclear power plants are much, much more environmentally friendly than coal-powered ones are). And he opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Since such a windfall tax amounts to retaliating against oil companies for a situation beyond their control, McCain’s opposition to this tax represents a definite policy strength.
That is the good part of McCain’s proposal. Unfortunately, his plan also involves many proposals that are extraneous—they will not really affect the situation one way or another. He would give a 300 million dollar prize to the person who develops a battery package that can “leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” A nice idea, but the person who does make a viable electric car probably wouldn’t need $300 million—the profits he or she could make from this invention would dwarf that sum. Investigating oil speculators is another pointless component of the Lexington project—oil is not $150 a barrel because of oil speculators, but rather because increased demand for a limited supply.
And parts of McCain’s strategy are just bad. McCain would set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases companies could produce, which is probably not what American industry needs in these troubled times. (This would give a huge edge to Chinese and Indian industries). It appears McCain is serious about fighting global warming, and a large portion of his energy plan in geared towards stopping climate change. This is not a winner—in the minds of many Americans, global warming takes a back seat to four dollar gas.
One of the most frustrating things about the Obama campaign is Obama’s inability to take a stand on any issue. Honestly, I don’t know what he would do to lower gas prices. I know that he said that he would have preferred a more gradual rise in gas prices. And I know he doesn’t think that we can “drill our way out of this problem.” I assume that he wants to invest in green technologies, which he apparently thinks would somehow then lower gas prices. (Solar and wind power are all well and good, but I’m not sure how they would lower gas prices, especially in the short term. Doubtless Obama has it all figured out).
Anyway, the rest of Obama’s statements on this issue seem to consist of threats to impose a windfall tax on oil companies (even though their profit margins aren’t particularly high) and to investigate oil speculators, since Obama seems to think that the price of oil is affected mostly by the futures market instead of supply and demand.
McCain’s plan is much better than Obama’s—any plan that does not involve more drilling is almost useless, and Obama’s does not. (Anyway, Obama doesn’t really have a plan, so McCain wins by default here). The question is whether McCain will be able to sell his plan to voters. After all, McCain’s communication troubles are notorious.
The evidence would seem to indicate that he is selling his plan—and the gas crunch hasn’t hit yet. Most summer vacations take place in late July and August, and that is the time when voters will really feel the demands of high gas.
According to Rasmussen, voters trust the Democrats on the economy, which includes gas prices, more than the Republicans by ten percentage points. But when asked which of the two presidential candidates they trust most on the economy, Obama leads by only two points (within the margin of error), and the candidates are tied on the issue of energy. Given that voters tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans on these issues, McCain’s competitiveness here is surprising. McCain’s energy plan does indeed seem to be attracting voters, and it will probably attract more as the campaign heats up.