COMMENTARY: Two-bit drilling for change

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I was watching the Big Oil execs testifying before Congress. That was my first mistake. If memory serves, there was lesbian mud wrestling over on Channel 137, and on the whole that’s less rigged.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz knew the routine: “I can’t say that there is evidence that you are manipulating the price, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not.”

Had I been in the hapless oil man’s expensive shoes, I would have answered, “Hey, you first. I can’t say that there is evidence that you’re sleeping with barnyard animals, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence and prima facie evidence, lady? Do I have to file a U.N. complaint in Geneva that the House of Representatives is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?”

But that’s why I don’t get asked to testify before Congress. So instead the Big Oil guy oozed as oleaginous as his product before the grand panjandrums of the House Subcommittee on Televised Posturing, and then they went off and passed by 324-82 votes the so-called NOPEC bill. The NOPEC bill is, in effect, a suit against OPEC, which, if I recall correctly, stands for the Oil Price-Exploiting Club. “No War For Oil!,” as the bumper stickers say. But a massive suit for oil — now that’s the American way!

“It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act,” declared the House of Representatives, “to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product… or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States.”

Er, OK. But, before we start suing distant sheikhs in exotic lands for violating the NOPEC act, why don’t we start by suing Congress? After all, who “limits the production or distribution of oil” right here in the United States by declaring that there’ll be no drilling in the Gulf of Florida or the Arctic National Mosquito Refuge? As Rep. Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, herself told Neil Cavuto on Fox News, “We can’t drill our way out of this problem.”

Well, maybe not. But maybe we could drill our way back to $3.25 per gallon. More to the point, if the House of Representatives has now declared it “illegal” for the Government of Saudi Arabia to restrict oil production, why is it still legal for the Government of the United States to restrict oil production? In fact, the Government of the United States restricts pretty much every form of energy production other than the bizarre fetish du jour of federally mandated ethanol.

Nuclear energy? Whoa, no, remember Three Mile Island? (OK, nobody does, but kids, and anyone under late middle age, you can look it up in your grandparents’ school books.)

Coal? Whoa, no, man, there go our carbon credits.

OK, how about if we all go back to the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, and start criss-crossing the country on wood-fired trains? Are you nuts? Think of the clear-cutting. We can’t have logging in environmentally sensitive areas such as forests.

Mrs. Wasserman Schultz believes in “alternative energy,” which means not nuclear (like the French) but solar and wind power. At the moment, solar energy accounts for approximately 0.1 percent of U.S. electricity production, most of which is for devices which heat swimming pools. So if there was a tenfold increase in swimming pool construction you might be able to get it up to 1 percent, but the only way all those homeowners would be able to afford to build their new swimming pools is through the kinds of economic activity that depend on oil, gas, and other forms of federally prohibited energy.

So instead Congress hauls Big Oil execs in for the dinner-theater version of a Soviet show trial and then passes irrelevant poseur legislation like the NOPEC bill. Plus ca change you can believe in, plus c’est la meme chose. The NOPEC bill is really the NO PECS bill — a waste of photocopier paper passed by what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests.”

The New Yorker ran a big piece the other day called “The Fall Of Conservatism.” Indeed. This November won’t be pleasant for those of us of a right-wing bent. Many conservative voices in the media say: This is the way it is, get used to it. Voters want the government to “fix” health care and “fix” gas prices and “fix” the environment and, if all you’re offering is the virtues of small government, you too sound small — and mean and uncaring about the real issues in real people’s real lives. Standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” was a cute line from William F. Buckley, but it’s not a practical position for a political party that wishes to stay in business.

“The fact of change is the great fact of human life,” writes my National Review colleague David Frum in Comeback, his thoughtful critique of the conservative movement.

David’s right. Change is a constant. You’re a big railroad baron and things are going swell and then someone invents the horseless carriage and a big metal bird that holds hundreds of people and you never saw it coming — because you thought you were in the train business rather than in the transportation business. That kind of change is the great exhilarating rhythm of American life.

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