- - Thursday, February 7, 2013

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has received a lot of favorable response from Republican activists for his recent comment, “[Republicans] are the 47 percent.” Contemporaneously, former Sen. Jim DeMint, now president-elect of the Heritage Foundation, used “Meet the Press” as a forum to declare the need to put “real people and real faces” on the Republican Party. The senators are being polite, but they are talking in code.

What they mean is that Republicans in their own bubble have been as cut off from the reality of American life as the Democrats have been in their academic-foundation-government hothouse.

For example, a new report by Goldman Sachs points to the American energy revolution as a major, positive element in what columnist Robert J. Samuelson calls “Another American Century.” Republicans instinctively know this is a good thing, and they know that Team Obama is implacably opposed to it. Republican candidates for national office meet the oil patch CEOs briefly at donor functions, but too often their understanding ends there.

To put it bluntly, the Republicans at the national level have little or no idea who’s driving the fracking water trucks.

Here are the real people and real faces: A substantial company that carries fracking water to the drilling site and waste water away from it has a regional office along the Interstate 37 service road in Texas’ Eagle Ford shale country. It has a very large “Now Hiring” sign out front and has had it up for more than a year. Inside, the human resources director is an Hispanic-American from South Texas. Everyone in the waiting room with job applications papers in his hands is Hispanic. The company has a strong need for truck drivers with the Eagle Ford drilling expanding at a near-frantic pace, and this offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hispanics and others.

There’s that magic word, “opportunity,” which the Republicans thought they had trademarked. What matters is this: Will you show up for work on time and consistently? Can you do your job well and safely? Can you pass the random drug tests? If you’re moving the dirt without endangering anyone on the job site, you’re fine.

The energy employment pyramid is huge, growing and extremely wide. A lot of people — even at the entry level — are doing very well. Certainly, if you have a skill, such as welding or diesel mechanics, you will make more money, but even those driving fracking water trucks are making serious money — more than $100,000 (counting overtime) in some cases. A new, upwardly mobile working middle class is being born that is looking for an opportunity, not a handout.

By best estimates, every oil field job supports six more making steel pipe or building earth-moving equipment in Peoria. Someone in the oil patch gets a new, well-paying job, and he often immediately buys a new car or pickup. A United Auto Workers member in Detroit gets some overtime, buys a bass-fishing outfit to take to the lake next summer, and so it goes. It’s like throwing a rock into a still pond watching the ripples expand, except we are talking about millions of people and hundreds of billions of dollars.

In south Texas and eastern New Mexico, the workers are overwhelmingly Hispanic. In West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Dakota, the oil patches are filled with blue-collar Democrats. These are states Ronald Reagan won overwhelmingly in 1984 against a Democrat candidate who promised to raise taxes and increase welfare. Blue-collar Democrats in the millions voted for opportunity over a government handout. These are states the Republicans would like to win in the next election cycle. The people working long hours there are not low-information voters. They know very well that everything around them is at risk from an adverse decision in Washington. The Obama official’s threat to “crucify the oil companies” went viral all over the oil patch from top to bottom.

Every day, the American energy revolution gets bigger and better. Without a doubt, it is the “next big thing” of our age. Team Obama has nothing to offer and is a not-so-secret foe. Unfortunately, too many Republicans don’t know the workers out there. Republicans need to get out into the oil patch, put on a hard hat and safety glasses, look around, visit some suppliers, hit a truck stop, shake some hands, share some lunch and ask some questions. “Opportunity” is the Republican message, and there are willing recipients in the oil patch.

William C. Triplett II is the former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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