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William Murchison
William Murchison
2 Sep 2014
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Energy Demagogues

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BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, (CLUNK) — hear the demagoguery machines as they rev up in Washington, D.C.

If the wizards who run the machines produced half as much energy with their policies as they do with their lungs, America would be in terrific shape for energy.

Politico's Mike Allen telegraphs the president's intentions (after two days on the Gulf Coast and an Oval Office address) for the tussle over using the oil spill to leverage energy policy. According to Allen, Democratic National Committee pollster Joel Benenson, who also strategizes for the administration, titles the Democratic vision "Making BP Pay Isn't Enough." That is, we can't stop with mere punishment.

Point 1 in the Benenson scenario: "Frame the opposition: Big Oil and corporate polluters who have blocked energy reform for decades," plus "Politicians protecting the special interests that fund their campaigns."

Point 2: "Illustrate the costs of our dependence ... $1 billion a day in foreign oil. Oil spill destroying jobs and livelihoods."

Point 3: "Put Americans back in control of our energy situation. Cut foreign oil spending in half. Invest in energy that's made in America and create millions of jobs for Americans."

A major point about the Benenson points: the political nature of the whole exercise. It's all about making a spectacle of "Big Oil" and "Corporate polluters." Don't stop to analyze — call names, make the voters want to beat up on the so and so's. By contrast, make the same voters fall in love with the white political knights riding to the rescue of those set upon by the trolls and gnomes of the oil industry.

Here we go again, in other words. Will Jimmy Carter take a bow? The late — politically late, that is — Mr. Carter sought to demagogue his way through the energy crunch of the late '70s with attacks on oil companies and attempts to ensnare their "windfall profits."

The Obama energy policy, whose emergence from obscurity coincides with the administration's felt need to bare teeth at Big Oil, is going nowhere in a Congress saddled with economic challenges.

The point isn't passage anyway, it's — that word again — demagoguery; railing at the malefactors of wealth in order to stir up voter reaction.

No presidential administration of the post-World War II era — possibly not even Carter's, which was mainly just incompetent — has behaved so negatively toward business as has Obama's. The first gentleman, to every appearance, really thinks government thinkers know more about everything than do people engaged in vulgar commerce. Including what kind of energy we need. Not the dirty kind — oil and coal; rather, the clean variety — wind and sun, and maybe a bit of nuclear as well.

This energy bill of goods, as dangled before us by the administration since the 2008 campaign, obscures practical and economic realities. To wit, trucks and cars don't run on sunlight or wind, and coal — whose cost of generation the U.S. energy department priced at 44 cents per megawatt three years ago — is our second cheapest form of energy, next to oil and gas, at 25 cents per megawatt. Nuclear power is $1.59.

And how much, according to the energy department, is wind power? Oh, $23.37 per megawatt. Solar power? A whopping $24.34.

Green jobs, anybody? The Heritage Foundation says a federal wind-power mandate could cost the economy 1 million jobs by 2017. All right, all right, Heritage, in policy circles, makes the near-fatal mistake of favoring capitalism. No doubt the administration can put on anti-capitalist witnesses of its own; more people to bash business and insist on the superiority of regulation at every turn.

The administration is kidding itself if it thinks Congress has the time, or is in the mood, to kick "Big Oil" and "corporate polluters" in that part of the anatomy for which we have a new presidential expression. Success at posterior-kicking isn't the point anyhow. Good old-fashioned demagoguery — yea us; boo all you other guys — is the point. For which there seems right now a downright surplus of energy.

William Murchison is the author of "Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity." To find out more about William Murchison and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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