Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain Finds Issues, Oil Drilling And Atomic Power

It must be frustrating for the McCain campaign to find issues that have traction against Barack Obama. There's been some sign recently of flailing around, as Obama has built up a lead in the polls, both nationwide and in key states. John McCain's campaign is finding what Hillary Clinton did: It is hard to run against Obama. Just yesterday, Mike Huckabee warned against "demonizing" him.

One reason it is difficult is that Obama comes across more as an idealist, inspirational and non-partisan, than the ultra-liberal the Republicans try to portray him as. He is no George McGovern, Mike Dukakis or John Kerry. He is much more competitive, and national opinion has shifted against the Republicans on key issues.

But this week, McCain has shown signs of getting onto his feet on the key issue of energy.

Both his proposals to allow oil drilling off America's coasts, and, especially, to build 45 nuclear plants by 2030 could easily in the present environment of skyrocketing gasoline prices find a lot of support. Also, there is new talk about developing the very substantial oil shales in North Dakota and Montana, just as the Canadians have their oil shales in Alberta. These are more costly than producing Middle Eastern oil, but with the present high prices are certainly feasible.

So far, Obama has opposed drilling, and has kind of fuzzed up nuclear power, arguing it might be a viable option to coal-fired plants. Might he alter these positions, if it becomes advantageous? Might even the L.A. Times get off its high energy horse and do the same? (The New York Times, under bullheaded editorial pages editor Andrew Rosenthal, never gets off its high horse).

For every languishing candidate, and the McCain campaign in recent weeks has certainly been languishing, it is essential to grab onto some issue that has legs. With Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primaries against Gerald Ford, it was the Panama Canal issue, the safeguarding of U.S. rights over the Canal. Ultimately, this was lost, but Reagan won with it in a whole string of Western and Southern primaries, and came close to upsetting Ford that year after a poor start. I remember that Nancy Reagan helped come up with that issue.

Energy in 2008 is one of the few issues developed thus far that seems to work for the Republicans. Already, there have been popular shifts on oil drilling, and, nuclear power is gaining support in Europe, and is bound to here as well.

Does it matter much that both would take a comparatively long time to bring on line? Not really, since it is important that we get to working on something that eventually will come to fruition. The trouble with the liberal, environmentalist position is that it calls for little except conservation, and conservation alone won't cut it.

It reminds one of General Lyautey, the French military chief in Morocco, once suggesting that a certain tree be planted in great numbers. A servant told him that the tree would not bloom for 100 years. "Then, start planting this afternoon," Lyautey replied. "We have no time to lose."

In contrast to energy, certain other issues have been doing the Republicans more harm than good. Chief among these recently as been the tasteless assaults on Michelle Obama, just repeated again this morning by Cindy McCain, wife of McCain.

The trouble with this is that polls show Michelle is quite a bit better liked than Cindy -- 48% to 39% in one survey. Cindy McCain is chiefly known as the millionairess who owns a beer producing company.

The criticisms of Michelle are basically the kind of indirect racial arguments that the Clintons tried and failed to use against Obama in the primaries. It has been postulated that some bigoted Americans have more trouble with seeing a black woman as First Lady than a black man as president.

This is hooey. For one thing, it is obvious already that Michelle Obama would be a far more polished, socially acceptable First Lady than Cindy McCain. And her children are certainly cuter.

We're going to hear a lot of this kind of thing -- trashy arguments -- between now and election day. McCain would be better served to use his energy arguments.

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Obama announced today that he will not be using federal funds in the fall. This was not unexpected, since Obama has raised so much money he will be far better able to fight the fall campaign with his own resources than the public's. This way, as Time's Mark Halperin points out today, Obama may be able to spend $15 million in Texas, possibly forcing McCain to give up on the state. Obama should not have pledged earlier to use federal funds, but at the time he did, he had no idea he would be so primed with money.

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