Can Energy Independence Be A Catalyst For A Third Party?
Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh runs a great piece today on our energy future, from a geo-political perspective. Hirsh notes that high prices are here to stay, in part because as supplies of oil diminish, more and more nation states will take steps to control their own reserves and their energy futures, rather than allow Big Oil to continue plundering them. These countries want the wealth that comes from selling their reserves, rather than see it transported offshore, and from that wealth will come more economic power. Hirsh cites the experience in Russia, where Vladimir Putin has taken steps to eliminate private oil ownership and empower the state to control its own oil and natural gas supplies, as well as the steps taken by Hugo Chavez and now Bolivia’s newly-elected leftist president to nationalize his country’s natural gas resources just this week.
This presents a stark future for a country that recklessly consumes fossil fuel without pursuing policies that reduce consumption and develop alternate and diverse energy sources, which is where America is now. The Cheney default position in response to increasing nation-state control over energy sources has been to seize control of those nation states (Iraq and soon Iran), while trying to buy off neighboring Central Asian energy sources with cash and other assistance. The Chinese on the other hand have already moved decades ahead of our “Fall of the Roman Empire” approach. They are bypassing Cheney’s costly militarist solution and are instead using the wealth from their trade surpluses with us to buy long-term energy deals with nation states Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. And yet, the United States still proceeds as if these new facts on the ground don’t exist.
The other day, Thomas Friedman criticized the Bush Administration’s lack of strategic planning towards energy independence (unfortunately the column is stuck behind the TimesSelect wall). Yes, the GOP is too attached to Big Oil and the mining and nuclear companies to ever take the initiative on energy independence and diversification. But where are the Democrats? It is easy to blame Clinton for doing little in this area in the late 1990’s, without acknowledging that he had a GOP congress that swatted down the several meager attempts he made. But Clinton never used the bully pulpit on this subject, during a booming economy when a little forward thinking may have planted useful seeds. Worse yet, in the years since Bush came to power, has energy independence and diversification been hammered month in and month out by the Democrats, at a time when a natural linkage to national security would be beneficial to the party?
But something else Friedman wrote made sense as well. He speculated that if neither party championed a new comprehensive energy policy for this country this fall, it may give an opening to a third party to do so in 2008. I think a third party that preached energy diversification and independence along with political reform would appeal to many disaffected voters in 2008. Friedman isn’t necessarily talking about a Green Party emergence here, but more of a hybrid between the Greens and moderates in both parties who see the world in a larger geo-political prism than either the far left Democrats or the imbecilic neocons and American Taliban on the right. Trust me, it wouldn't take much for me, or any of you, to cobble together a third-party platform in 2008 based on energy independence, universal health care, tax fairness, environmental preservation, and political reform here at home, coupled with more strategic thinking and less adventurism abroad. And such a platform, with the right framing and built on a moral center of community values, would resonate with many people in 2008.
Hirsh points to a world where nation-state control of energy sources will lead to energy wars. Hillary Clinton, through her mouthpiece James Carville, is talking about “progressive patriotism” based on realism and not populism. A third party wouldn't be necessary if Hillary, Warner, or the rest of the Democrats actually focused on reform and energy independence, which could be the keystone for such a party, or demonstrated the big-picture thinking necessary to deal with the challenges Hirsh writes about. But if Clinton, Warner, and the rest of the Democrats continue to give lip service to the environment, energy independence, and real reform while they tout “realism” and their abilities to allegedly solve problems, then I think that Friedman will be proven correct and a third party will take root in this country.