I've rarely felt compelled to award a Gold Star to a Comment in the New Yorker. But this latest piece by Elizabeth Kolbert earns it.
High energy costs are here to stay. People need to cowboy up and accept reality.
How important is it for candidates to tell the truth? Throughout his long career in politics, McCain, who called his PAC Straight Talk America, has presented frankness as his fundamental virtue. If his positions—on campaign finance, on immigration reform, on the Bush tax cuts—were unpopular with either the White House or the Republican Party faithful, that just showed that he was willing to tackle the tough issues. When his campaign very nearly collapsed and then revived, in December, McCain attributed his rally not to the fact that voters liked what he was saying but to the fact that they didn’t. “I’ve been telling people the truth, whether I thought that’s what they wanted or not,” he said. After his crucial victory in New Hampshire, in January, he again credited his candor: “I went to the people of New Hampshire to tell them the truth. Sometimes I told them what they wanted to know, sometimes I told them what they didn’t want to know.”
The past few weeks have seen a change in McCain. He has hired new advisers, and with them he seems to have worked out a new approach. He is no longer telling the sorts of hard truths that people would prefer not to confront, or even half-truths that they might find vaguely discomfiting. Instead, he’s opted out of truth altogether. “Well, that certainly didn’t take long,” the Times observed.
Of course, public-opinion surveys do not alter the underlying reality. The Department of Energy estimates that there are eighteen billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in offshore areas of the continental United States that are now closed to drilling. This sounds like a lot, until you consider that oil is a globally traded commodity and that, at current rates of consumption, eighteen billion barrels would satisfy less than seven months of global demand. A D.O.E. report issued last year predicted that it would take two decades for drilling in restricted areas to have a noticeable effect on domestic production, and that, even then, “because oil prices are determined on the international market,” the impact on fuel costs would be “insignificant.” Just a few months ago, McCain himself noted that offshore resources “would take years to develop.” As the oilman turned wind farmer T. Boone Pickens has observed, “This is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.”
Recent history suggests that Presidential campaigns don’t reward integrity; the candidate who refuses to compromise his principles is unlikely to have a chance to act on them. Still, McCain’s slide is saddening. That he has sunk to the level of “Pump” a full month before Labor Day really doesn’t leave him—or the race—far to go.