The Democrats have a standardized talking point against any domestic drilling (in ANWR, the Midwest oil shales and off-shore), settling on the comeback: "It won't help us today." Energy-savvy Republicans too often respond "If Clinton hadn't vetoed ANWR, that oil field would have been producing three years ago." While technically correct, the retort doesn't hit the Democrats where they are weakest.
Battle of the Narratives
Blame for the rise of gasoline prices (and everything else dependent on petroleum) is a political commodity right now, with each side seeking to hold the other culpable. The Democrats are avoiding their traditional environmental arguments for good reason.
If the voters see environmentalists, tree-huggers, and their Democratic political minions as causing $4 or $5 dollar a gallon gasoline, along with the rise in consumer prices across the board because of the increase of the cost of oil used as an ingredient in many products, they will blame the Democrats.
With most of the TV interview time on the major networks and cable news stations limited to a minute or so, there is a very short window in which a politician can get out an effective message. Even worse is the decreasing sound bite time used in non-interview style news reports. According to a recent study, that's down to 7.7 seconds. So it's vital for the GOP to develop a quick response to the Democrats' argument that will focus attention on the positives of the GOP argument.
What is that effective message? Here's a suggestion. It should be used every time a Democrat marches out their new favorite line:
Every solution currently under consideration by the Democrats and Republicans is a future solution. Oil drilling and processing is a present-day technology that offers the quickest solution to our energy needs. As the other technologies are gradually proven and perfected and go on-line, we can then reduce our dependence on oil.
A sympathetic news media will often grant time for the Democrats' counter argument, which is likely to be: this "solution" won't solve the problem of speculative investors forcing up the price of oil.
The Republicans' retort to that excuse should be along the following lines:
Right now, with the Democrats in charge, global investors realize that Congress will never allow the United States to develop its own energy reserves. With a Democratic President it would be even worse. If the Democrats stop their obstruction of drilling, that would immediately put downward pressure on such speculation in the oil futures markets.
Or the Democrats might respond by suggesting that we regulate the commodities market, especially the oil commodities market NYMEX. The GOP response should be: If the Democrats go after NYMEX, then oil speculators will move the futures markets overseas to a more friendly economic host, such as Dubai. We must address the fundamentals of supply and demand, instead of blocking every chance we get to create jobs and wealth in America through domestic production..
The facts and the answers to the energy crunch are on the GOP's side. Right now, every Republican interviewed attacks the problem with different talking points. The public likes and appreciates simple messages -- that's why the Democrats have been so effective with their "drilling won't help us today" slogan. The GOP must have a unified and concise message, repeated every time there's a microphone or a camera around, that effectively counters the Democrats' and the media's opposition to common sense and logical solutions to our energy needs.
Unless the presumptive nominee changes his position, this will put Republicans at odds with the McCain campaign. That's fine, since he's in the wrong on this issue. And I'm certain that he'd appreciate the "maverick" nature of Republicans in Congress going against a president or presumed presidential nominee.
John McCain feels free to disagree with his party, and there is no reason Republicans shouldn't return the favor. Independent swing voters, much sought after by McCain, seem to have a taste for divided government. A few of them might actually be more inclined to vote for Republican in Congress as well as McCain if they knew that Congtressional Republicans would not be in his pocket or vice versa.