Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Energy Debate in SF

The Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns will have the opportunity to present their positions on future energy policy and the role of renewable energy in the United
States at a Renewable Energy Forum to take place Wednesday, August 13
@ 6:00 PM. Surrogates from both campaigns and a moderator will engage
in a collaborative discussion of their candidates' positions.

The presidential campaign surrogates are Tim Carmichael, Senior
Campaign Advisor for Obama '08, and Kurt E. Yeager, California Chair
of the McCain Energy Coalition.

I attended this debate, and am displeased to report that it was profoundly superficial. Both candidates' surrogates struggled mightily to support renewable energy energy energy energy, and to link the same to the traditional shibboleths of each party. Carmichael talked about creating green (union) jobs, Yeager talked about winning the cold war. Both candidates dodged tough questions, and by the end of the thing, the moderator was begging them to differentiate themselves.

Particular hilarity was had when Carmichael declared that Obama "opposed offshore drilling, but supported the compromise which sanctioned it." Not to be outdone, Yeager announced on the very next question that McCain "was all for States' Rights, but felt that California should not receive an EPA waiver allowing it to regulate its own carbon emissions."

I was miraculously afforded the opportunity to ask the first question:

"Where does your candidate sit on the spectrum of preferring high energy prices, in order to destroy demand and spur innovation, to preferring low prices, to broadly stimulate the economy?"

Yeager seized the opportunity to rather violently dismiss my question as "an insult to the public," and said that "the citizenry should not have to pay the price for decades of Washington's inaction." I thought this was pretty stiff populism from a Republican. I'd had no idea the Federal Government took its mandate to supply consumers with cheap energy so seriously! The citizenry, of course, pays the price for whatever energy source they choose. The question is simply what kind of price do they pay, and exactly when and to whom do they pay it.

Carmichael was a little more conciliatory. He said that while the results of high prices are a fortunate accident, high prices are not generally desirable. I think he pretty much tried to have it both ways with me there, but then, I already knew Obama's position on the question.

Probably the boldest statements of the night were made by Yeager. Wrongly, in my view, he confidently stated that wind power would not ever amount to much, and that photovoltaics are the magic bullet for our energy problems. We'll watch as that one develops.

In the end, the debate was remarkably true to the popular mass media narrative of the campaigns: Carmichael wasted much time emphasizing the need for "inspirational leadership" and "vision", while Yeager strove to connect energy issues to McCain's "experience", while constantly tripping over facts, and contradicting himself.

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