In war it’s said, truth is the first casualty. Politics is also a deadly battlefield for veracity and integrity. Throw in corporate money and imperial ambitions and truth is dead on arrival.
In recent weeks, we’ve heard a rising chorus of Republicans blaming America’s energy woes on the Democrats. They do this in part to create a wedge issue during a presidential election year, and in part to drive the argument for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and on the outer continental shelf — including the coast of South Carolina.
We have heard a trio of S.C. Republicans beating this drum in the last three weeks. Most recently, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint told a partisan crowd in Mt. Pleasant it is time for the Democratic Congress to allow states to set their own policy regarding offshore drilling. The senator went on to suggest that Georgetown might “welcome” the vast infrastructure of tanks, terminals, and refineries that oil would bring to the Carolina coast. I’m sure he hopes so. There’s no way in hell Hilton Head, Charleston, or Myrtle Beach would welcome it.
More recently, First District Congressman Henry Brown looked into the camera in an empty House chamber and proclaimed, “Again today, the Democratic House leadership is proving that they are out of touch with the needs of their constituents, by skipping town for more than a month without a vote to lower gas prices, to increase supply of American-made energy, and to promote energy independence.” (Of course, the congressman did not mention that he owns considerable acreage a few miles from Georgetown, acreage that might increase handsomely in value if an oil terminal and refinery were sited in the area.)
And then there was James B. Edwards, former S.C. governor, former secretary of energy in the Reagan administration, current GOP water boy. In a 1,200-word guest column in the August 7 Post and Courier, Edwards declared, “The Democratic Party is owned and directed by radical environmental groups.” He added that his unholy alliance of environmentalists and Democrats was responsible for the high cost of energy in America today.
Let’s set the Wayback Machine to the late 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and America was licking its wounds from the first great energy shock, the Arab oil embargo of 1973. In a series of televised “fireside chats” from the White House, President Carter laid out a bold initiative for energy independence, which Americans are only now coming to rediscover. On April 18, 1977, Carter said this:
“Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly …
“We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.
“We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.”
Carter then outlined a comprehensive, 10-step program to achieve energy independence. “Many of these proposals will be unpopular,” he warned. “Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.
“The most important thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation.”
At the heart of Carter’s program was conservation, conservation, conservation! This meant requiring higher fuel standards for all automobiles and calling on Americans to turn back their thermostats and use less energy. There were also plans for alternative fuel sources, including wind, solar, and liquefied coal. He boldly called on Americans to come together and to sacrifice for our nation and our way of life. As in time of war, the federal government would have a major role in organizing and promoting this national effort.
So what happened to this great national effort? In two words: Ronald Reagan.
Running against Carter in 1980, Reagan had nothing but contempt for the then-president’s talk of sacrifice and cutting back and his philosophy of government activism. Markets were the solution to all problems, the Gipper proclaimed. Just cut taxes, deregulate everything, and the world will be fine. Today we see the wisdom of Reagan’s “voodoo economics” — to use George H.W. Bush’s words.
What Reagan was doing, of course, was selling out his country’s economic future and national security to pay off his campaign debts to the oil and automotive industries. We are still living with the decisions Reagan and James Edwards made a quarter century ago.
It’s no wonder the Republicans want to rewrite history. They have a lot to be ashamed of.