Energy Policy and the Presidential Candidates

Hey, were you aware that there is a Presidential campaign underway? I'm not sure how I've managed to be in the dark on this, but now that I know, I must say, it explains soooo much.

Like Wolf Blitzer's escalated agitation. Like the flattering twice-a-day phone calls I receive from Barack Obama that I now suspect are purely ploys to raise money. And the nagging sense that the current administration is merely running out the clock. Which I thought you were only supposed to do when you're winning.

But now that I "get it," it seems appropriate to take stock of each of the candidate's proposed energy policies. There are some fine summaries available online already from the League of Conservation Voters and Grist, but these abstracts only cover what the candidates say. They don't tell us what they'll actually try to do, what their commitment level will be, or whether they are likely to succeed.

In other words--let me thrust coyness aside--it has come to my attention that sometimes politicians will say things just to get elected.

I'll go even farther. What the candidates say now is probably the least useful indicator of what they'll do if they are sworn in next January. To get a sense of where they really stand and how they will perform in office, we have to look beyond their campaign statements. Let me see if I can itemize the criteria below. Then, in future posts, we'll see how the candidates stack up.

Past performance is criteria number one. All of the top candidates have track records either as elected Executives or legislators. However, as I'm sure the prospectuses of those fickle bundled mortgage derivatives clearly stated, past performance is not an indicator of future returns. So it will behoove us to ask just who each candidate is inviting into their bed chamber--a room already crowded with the supine forms of their party's establishment in various degrees of self-entitlement and dishabille--in order to secure passage to the White House. In other words, Mitt Romney may have paraded around in Birkenstocks during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts, but he has new friends now. And while you or I will have little recourse if a candidate wins our vote and then conveniently forgets promises made, the auto industry is less apt to be forgiving, and has at its disposal numerous instruments for making a President's term in office rife with discomforts.

Once we examine the candidates' past predilections with regard to energy policy, and determine to whom they will be beholden if their White House bid comes to fruition, we can ask ourselves whether they will have the guile and moxie to implement their plan. An appropriate energy policy is likely to face significant resistance from a number of entrenched interests and from large segments of the electorate, even if shrewd incentives are put in place. It's a lot easier to get elected on a platform of Change than to govern under that same banner. On this count we must assess the candidates as we would Olympic gymnasts, and award points for difficulty as well as execution. Consider: Rudy Giuliani will likely have little trouble implementing his energy policy in full. But it is relevant to note that the Mayor's energy policy is, apparently, to do nothing about energy.

If we accept the premise that a laissez-faire approach to energy isn't going to suffice, then it is safe to say there are two other qualities the next President will need: a Johnsonian talent for buttonholing and back-room deal-making as well as a Kennedy-esque felicity of expression to rouse the support of a cynical and fearful populace. That we need to reach back in time more than forty years for suitable analogies reflects both the scale of the challenge we face and the rarity of the skills we seek. Is it unrealistic to hope there is a candidate in the present race who can both lead and manage?

Finally, there is one other lens through which we must scrutinize each candidate. Some may hold that energy policy is a purely economic issue. Some believe it transcends economics, rising to the level of a national security imperative. Others seek a candidate who believes that energy policy is so profoundly intertwingled with climate change that it is pointless to discuss one to the exclusion of the other. Sucha a candidate will acknowledge that energy and climate are running a three-legged race, and while global warming deniers may think they can disentangle from their unwieldy green partner and dash to the finish line with a policy that addresses energy in isolation, it will not be a feat worthy of blue ribbon or stuffed animal.

I guess you can tell where I stand. But I suppose one might legitimately contend that the complexities of climate change and its associated constituencies are such an obstruction to progress towards a coherent energy policy that disentangling the two issues is the more prudent course.

So far, I'm just trying to offer a yardstick, not tell you how tall the next President should be. In the days ahead, I'll post further thoughts on how I think the candidates measure up.

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