Besieged by an energy crisis that is sending the cost of everything soaring, Americans are desperately seeking problem-solving leadership. But all they are getting is showmanship.
Out on the presidential campaign trail, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are performing like professional wrestlers. They are pounding the mat in feigned pain. Wailing about the other’s dirty moves and proclaiming piety and purity — even while executing a similar stunt of their own. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Democrats and Republicans in charge of the company store that is Congress have performed a pathetic Capitol Kabuki.
Kabuki, as explained by Wikipedia, is a Japanese theater form sometimes translated as "the art of singing and dancing." But you already knew that, having watched the song and dance being given to us by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their many Republican tormentors.
First, when McCain and Obama set out to talk about their ideas for easing the energy crisis, they drowned out their own messages by making silly attacks on their opponent. McCain launched a TV ad linking Obama’s celebrity stardom to two blond ladies who are best known for their body parts. Obama three times claimed President Bush and McCain want to make people afraid of him because his face doesn’t look like the ones on the dollar bills. It was a gratuitous racial reference, and dead wrong.
Meanwhile, McCain and Obama traded attacks that the other had flip-flopped on some energy issues. That was accurate. Of course, each had explanations that the deteriorating crisis required new thinking.
Which brings us to offshore drilling for oil. McCain was against the federal government’s mandating it in January. Now he’s for it big-time, playing it up as a huge difference with Obama. What’s more, Senate and House Republicans made offshore drilling their mantra — as if it would be key to ending our oil crisis.
That, of course, is ridiculous. Obama notes correctly that four-fifths of America’s offshore areas that are suitable for drilling are already being drilled; Bush’s Energy Department says that drilling in the final fifth today won’t produce any new oil for seven years and it will only slightly affect prices at the pump 15 years from now. Finally, McCain admitted offshore drilling would mainly be a "psychological" relief to Americans. But he kept on attacking Obama for it.
Obama, meanwhile, finally got to the point he should have been at from the outset _ that he could accept offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive plan for alternative energy sources. We need to be exercising all options — which is what McCain now says. Obama also said this week that he now favors using oil from the U.S. strategic reserves to help lower oil prices _ something he had opposed as recently as July 7.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans made Democratic leaders look inept — aided significantly by inept performances of Democrats Reid and Pelosi, who closed down the Congress without dealing with the energy crisis. Republicans then staged phony theatric protests to push offshore drilling as if it were a real solution. It was good TV gimmickry, which was all they cared about.
Senate Majority Leader Reid’s laughable response was to urge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to meet him in Las Vegas for an energy summit. Vegas? Why not in Washington? House Speaker Pelosi, meanwhile, went on ABC News’ "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and was absolutely incomprehensible when asked repeatedly to explain her position that seemed to be for recessing rather than allowing an up-or-down vote on offshore drilling. Her best effort was to say the Republicans should use their imaginations. The next day Republicans said they were imagining an effective House Speaker allowing the up-and-down votes Pelosi once promised to permit. Ouch.
This much I know: If McCain and Obama were not running for president, they could meet in one of those little hideaway rooms in the Capitol. And it would take them maybe one hour to come up with a compromise comprehensive energy plan that both parties could approve. And Americans would have some immediate relief and long-term energy security.
The real problem these sorry days is that there is too much of politics in our political process.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)