Tire Pressure and Personal Virtue

An old friend of mine used to say that at a certain stage in political campaigns, dead cats start flying through the air. I’ve never understood what he meant by that, but I think the cat-flinging has begun.

Both candidates are doing their share, but one exchange deserves special analysis: The attack against Barack Obama’s comment about tire gauges. Responding to a question, Obama made the point that acts of conservation by individual Americans can have an impact on rising oil prices. He used tire pressure maintenance as an example.

The GOP has had a field day with that one, suggesting that it’s the most substantive answer Obama has offered to deal with the oil crises. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a prospective GOP running mate, joined in the fun, using a tire gauge as a prop at a campaign event. In facetious recognition of Obama’s 47th birthday, GOPers staff passed out tire pressure gauges, then announced it would sell “Obama Energy Plan” gauges for $25 each. Now, you can get them on E-Bay.

But if conservatives thinks he’s putting pressure on Obama, he’d be wise to gauge the risk. His joke could go flat.

Watch for Obama’s campaign to counterpunch by comparing his opponent to another prominent Republican who belittled the value of energy conservation — Vice President Dick Cheney, who in 2001 called energy efficiency a “personal virtue” rather than an important component of national energy policy. That comment exposed the crude oil that runs through Cheney’s veins and through the Bush Administration’s energy policy. The Obama people are probably editing their McCain=Cheney ad right now.

Because there’s little to watch on television due to the Olympics, some voters might be encouraged to compare McCain’s energy platform with Obama’s. They will find that the Senator from Illinois has a far more detailed, more substantive, more visionary and more revolutionary set of energy proposals than the Senator from Arizona. Our problem-ridden economy suggests that revolutionary approaches to energy and security are just what America needs. As someone once said, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. By that definition, calling for lots more oil drilling is crazy, particularly from candidates who are committed to reducing America’s contribution to climate change.

Most significantly, the tire gauge incident may show us an important difference in the two candidates’ leadership styles. Obama’s point was that individual Americans can be an important part of the solution to our energy problems. And he’s correct.

One of the reasons we remain vulnerable to oil shocks 30 years after the embargoes of the 1970s is that politicians are reluctant to call upon us Americans to make an adjustment in our behaviors or lifestyles. Jimmy Carter tried that and it didn’t work out so well. Ever since, it seems, the politicians’ motto has been “ask what your country can do for you, not what you can do for your country.”

Nevertheless, oil prices have been going down lately because individual Americans got smart and did the right things. We drove 10 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than we did in May 2007. That’s the equivalent of more than 100 trips to the sun (or 50 if you want to come back). We’re buying fewer big trucks and more efficient cars. We’re using more mass transit. Some of us, including Republicans under the cloak of darkness, may even be checking our tire pressure.

For the past seven years, the Bush Administration has been opening up new land and issuing new leases to oil companies as fast as bureaucrats can move the paper. That hasn’t prevented oil from shooting to more than $140 a barrel or gasoline to more than $4 a gallon.

The fact is, the recent actions of individual Americans appear to have been pretty effective. We all should feel empowered by that. It turns out that the efficiency gurus are correct: energy efficiency and conservation aren’t the only things we need to do, but they’re the cheapest and quickest ways to deal with the insecurities inherent in our dependence on oil and gas.

I hate to take the air out of McCain’s tires, but I find it refreshing that a national leader is willing to suggest that we get up out of our chairs, go out to the garage, pick up our pressure gauges and get involved in solving the energy crises. That’s people power. That’s teamwork. That’s leadership. Both candidates now should be urging consumers to keep up the good work, even though gasoline has dipped below $4 again.

In fact, in his next energy speech, Obama should follow his tire gauge act with a caulking gun. Despite the recent drop in oil and natural gas prices, energy experts predict that the cost of home heating this winter will be the next big energy shock, and that’s right around the corner.

— Bill B.

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15 Responses to Tire Pressure and Personal Virtue

  1. charlie says:

    I’ve always thought it interesting that the Bush/Cheny defense of “sacrifice” was having our phone calls monitored and standing in line for overpaid TSA staffers to fondle us.

    It takes political courage to call for sacrifice, and I’d respect Obama more if he called for more sacrifices. Too much of his energy plan is give-aways for hybrids and using the government spending power. I understand that campaigning for a higher gas tax may be suicide, but there are other steps he can call for to move the number of miles Americans drive down.

    For instance: Insurance reform — giving more discounts for fewer miles driven. Pushing warranty claims up – so a car driven 10K miles in three years doesn’t necessarily go off warranty. And immediate implementation of the tire pressure monitor and fuel computer displays in all cars sold in the US. Easy aftermarket tire pressure monitoring for older cars.

  2. Rick C says:

    I was checking my tire pressure before checking my tire pressure was cool.

    PS: I’m also a hypermiler but not the kind that drafts 18 Wheelers.

  3. paulm says:

    I bet lots of people have topped up their tires now…if they save money they should vote Obama.

  4. Peter Black says:

    It’s interesting to check out where people have been using mass transit more. In June, I created a map showing just that…and demonstrating that 75% of American cities have seen an increase in transit use.

    This ties into the concept that we need to better fund our mass transit systems so that we continue to lower our GHG emissions while we provide excellent options for those who don’t want to sit in traffic for an hour or two a day…nor monitor their tires constantly…

  5. llewelly says:

    If you had ever read anything by Mark Twain, or any other authentic depiction of 19th century America, you would know that in 19th century America, one way to attack, insult and humiliate another person, or, more commonly, group of other people, was to find the corpse of a cat, and throw it at your target. Thrown dead cats often appeared in mob violence.

  6. Paul K says:

    Actions speak louder than words. Climate voters understand that Obama voted for the 2005 Bush Cheney Energy Bill while McCain voted against it. McCain has introduced a climate relevant bill in the Senate. Obama has not. McCain has a career long oppositon to corn ethanol (the one time solution that turned out to have tremendous negatives) subsidies. Obama has always been a strong supporter of this failed strategy. Talk about judgment.

  7. Steve H says:

    Nice site there paul. Not really. I can’t believe you would actually link to something that pathetic. Corn ethanol is not a failed strategy by any means. Its not a silver bullet, either. Its has its place, but we need leaders who recognize that the impetus is on the individual to make sacrifices to reduce their gasoline usage, both to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil and to limit greenhouse gas emissions, because the government alone cannot succeed in both of those areas. Supposing we build the Great Wall of Oil Wells around our shores to pump out every last drop of oil, that still won’t come close to making a lick of difference in becoming “energy independent.” Alas, McCain doesn’t have this thing you call ‘judgment’. He has (Cheny’s) advisers.

  8. Paul K says:

    Steve H,
    I link to my site because I disdain anonymous commenting. You’re right, the page is pretty weak and it gets almost no traffic. I rarely post there. It used to be better and may be again in the future.

    Corn ethanol is a climate and environmental horror story. It should not be subsidized.

    You may not know that I strongly favor replacing fossil fuel. Pretty soon my name link will be to a page describing an organization I have created to push that replacement at the consumer level.

    You can’t equate McCain and Cheney. Remember, Obama voted Cheney’s way, McCain didn’t.

  9. John Hollenberg says:

    I agree that corn ethanol is a very bad idea. However, just because there is one weak point in Obama’s overall energy plan doesn’t mean the whole plan is bad. If you want to say that actions speak louder than words, read McCain’s record on voting against renewable energy and the fact that for environmental voting overall he received a “perfect” score of ZERO for the year 2007 from the League of Conservation Voters:

    I would say that McCain’s record is pretty pathetic.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Paul, I just read through a letter written by James Hansen. In it he says the following…

    “The public, however, is not presented a realistic picture of how science works on such matters. Instead public discussion of global warming is befogged by contrarians, whose opinions are given a megaphone by special interests that benefit by keeping the public confused. Some of the contrarians were once scientists, but now they behave, at least on the topic of global warming, as lawyers defending a client. Their aim is to present a case as effectively as possible, citing only evidence that supports their client, and making the story appear as favorable as possible to their client.”

    Obviously he’s talking about cherry picking data.

    Any chance you’re cherry picking voting records rather than giving a true representation of the two candidates?

  11. Paul K says:

    Bob Wallace,
    As another famous climate scientist said, “You have to pick some cherries if you want to make a pie.” Corn ethanol subsidies, legislation introduced and the 2005 Bush Cheney energy bill are three things where both candidates have a record that can be compared. The record makes McCain look better.

    I do think McCain is the candidate for climate voters. Can you pick any cherries in Obama’s record – as opposed to rhetoric and campaign promises – that balance out the negatives I’ve identified?

    [JR: Funny stuff, Paul. McCain is a candidate for voters who don’t care about the climate (see “No climate for old men: Why John McCain isn’t the candidate to stop global warming.”]

  12. nataraj says:

    I’ve just one question. Who supports carbon tax ? Whose ideology would allow him to support carbon tax ?

  13. Jay Alt says:

    Corn ethanol subsidies, legislation introduced and the 2005 Bush Cheney energy bill are three things where both candidates have a record that can be compared.

    Very true

    The record makes McCain look better.

    Only superficially. You continually portray McCain’s vote as a stand against world hunger. But in 2005 officials had no idea that US farm policy changes could become so harmful.

    McCain has opposed support for all alternative energies- wind, solar, ethanol with equal vigor. He is sure that The Market will ‘solve’ our problems, so why worry? His proposals are inadequate and his party lacks the awareness, much less the discipline, to pass meaningful climate measures.

    In the future, cellulosic ethanol will play a useful part of climate policy. If Senator McCain is still around then, he’ll work against those plans too. He hasn’t the slightest concept of how to help fold alternative energy policies into the economy.

  14. bill becker says:

    Thanks for the explanation of dead cats, llewelly. It clears up a mystery I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Guess I shouldn’t have skipped my American literature classes.

  15. John Hollenberg says:

    Paul K. wrote: “I do think McCain is the candidate for climate voters.”

    Thanks, Paul. You have finally pushed me to make a substantial contribution to the Obama campaign for president.