Before the financial meltdown severely undercut John McCain's presidential ambitions, his campaign was giddy over the apparent success of its energy policy message: Drill, baby, drill!
It is, after all, a simple sounding solution that appeals to politicians in love with the quick fix, oil companies desperate for access to new sources, and auto-dependent Americans, many of whom now find themselves stranded in far-off suburbs, trapped in expensive car commutes and completely lacking freedom of choice when it comes to transportation. No matter that drilling here and drilling now isn't going to do much of anything to reduce gasoline prices or wean Americans from their crushing oil dependence.
If you're curious about the masterminds behind the message, head over to Newt Gingrich's "tri-partisan" American Solutions web site. There, you can download "The New Language of Smart Energy," a 42-page talking points memo from Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz handily sums up his findings as "The 10 Communications Commandments for 2008." Not surprising, given the buckets of fossil fuel money behind Gingrich's American Solutions, the Commandments can pretty much be summed up as "Thou Shalt Drill. Thou Shalt Drill Here. Thou Shalt Drill Now."
Here, courtesy of Frank and Newt, is some of the messaging that oil companies are using to maintain their grip on U.S. energy policy and get to those environmentally-sensitive leases. Mock and ignore them at your own peril.
- First off, before even getting into the Ten Commandments, make sure you present yourself as having risen above partisan politics.
- Then frame the issue in terms of national security. Our dependence on oil isn't the problem. It's our dependence on "foreign oil" that's the problem. All that stuff about oil being a globally traded commodity? Too complicated. Skip that.
- Shortages "are unacceptable in our 21st century economy." All that stuff about geology and peak oil? Too wonky. Skip that.
- "It is about American oil and American gas." (Bold and underline formatting courtesy of Frank Luntz.)
- The more you can talk about futuristic "breakthrough technology," the more you'll be embraced by the American public.
- "Diversity of supply leads to security of supply." But focus, mainly, on diversity of oil and gas supply not diversity of energy sources.
- Do: Talk about new technology and the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. Don't: Talk about conservation or sacrifice.
Newt, Frank, and the rest of their ilk seem to be in retreat for now. But with some drivers returning to their gas-guzzling ways, how long until the next "crisis" hits -- and the oil-suckers emerge from their crypt?
Graphic: Carly Clark