The war on terror. The war on drugs. Welfare reform. Family values. Education, education, education!

Remember those? Every single one was a signature issue of a general election campaign designed to distract the voting public from critical challenges facing the United States of America.

This year it’s energy independence. Woo-hoo!

I watched with much amusement as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and Rep. Henry Brown took potshots at each other’s side of the aisle recently.

Right after the Democrats split town with the August recess, a group of Republican representatives engaged in a little grandstanding on “energy independence” before the House cameras when nobody was around. Brown, who shows up for this stuff with alarming regularity, told the microphone, “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 the supply of American-made energy, and to promote energy independence.”

And with that, Mr. Anchorman Hair packed up his “drill here, drill now” suitcase and hit the bricks himself.

Not to be outdone, Clyburn released a statement last week, stating, “Before we adjourned, Republicans blocked several bills that would have done something to address high gas prices in the near-term … Furthermore, they’ve stood against legislation to crack down on price gouging, invest in renewable energy, establish the first new vehicle efficiency standards in 32 years, and repeal taxpayer subsidies for major oil companies that are making record profits.”

Uh-huh. Clyburn wants to draw down the strategic oil reserve, I suspect, because you-know-who proposed it recently.

Pick any candidate anywhere and you’ll hear all kinds of self-serving “energy independence” demagoguery, and, according to all sorts of polling, the voters are falling for it. Four bucks a gallon is why this parlor trick is working.

American consumers are facing higher energy costs for the simple reason that demand is outpacing the available ready-to-use supply. It’s not market speculation, price gouging, a lack of opportunity for domestic drilling, or those damn smelly hippies living in trees that have made fuel prices rise.

The only way for America to be truly energy independent is to go all electric. But this is an unrealistic option for the United States because everything about this country and its energy needs have become too sophisticated and integrated to be based upon a single source.

Oil independence won’t debilitate the economies of the oil-producing countries nor stop terrorism. And once domestic sources are exhausted, what happens then?

The fiscal recklessness that fueled the banking crisis, which will worsen dramatically over the next 18 months, has reduced the value of the dollar and limited America’s historically feckless use of consumer spending to remove a problem.

What should be addressed by elected leaders like Clyburn and Brown is improving America’s energy security, and that is going to require compromise from everybody.

The oil companies need to develop the leases on public land already in their possession rather that hedging a bet on the costs of drilling offshore and quit holding out their hands for government subsidies. Demonizing market speculators for price increases has been a convenient out since before the founding of the republic; our politicians need to let that one go. And the smelly hippies are going to have to let go of a tree here and there.

Making fun of Jimmy Carter’s sweaters and thermostat management helped Ronald Reagan win, but he ignored Richard Nixon’s challenge for energy security measures by 1980. Now look where we are — stuck listening to one politician ridicule another’s advice that we check the tire pressure on our cars.