McCain's first August fakery foray


As I mentioned here yesterday, August is typically the month when Democratic presidential candidates are shredded by Republican tacticians who hew to the proposition that politics is war by other means, and that, in war, truth is always the first casualty.

Case in point, right now, is the GOP's first '08 foray into August fakery.

Last Thursday, Barack Obama made the rather mild observation that Americans could actually conserve a lot of oil by "inflating their tires and getting regular tuneups." Yet in a matter of hours, and over the weekend and beyond, all the moving parts within the conservative/Republican message machine were humming with fact-free synchronicity.

Rush Limbaugh pronounced the idea "laughable" and "stupid." John McCain, the alleged "maverick" who has now embraced the traditional fakery as the best route to power, falsely suggested that Obama's car tips constituted the sum total of Obama's energy plan ("Do you think that's enough to break our independence on Middle Eastern oil?" asked the career Washington lawmaker who has spent two and a half decades on Capitol Hill doing nothing to break our independence on Middle Eastern oil).

Meanwhile, Sean Hannity went on the radio, made up an entire quote, and attributed it to Obama. His credulous listeners came away thinking that Obama said this: "All you need to do is inflate your tires. That's all you need to do. If every American would join in this effort, of inflating one's tires, then it's all going to be fine. And we can still import 70 percent of our oil from Saudi Arabia. Just keep those tires inflated."

Well, Obama never said that inflating one's tires is "all you need to do." Whether one agrees with Obama's prescriptions or not, the fact is that he talked about a wide range of energy ideas during the long Democratic debate season...and did so again in an energy speech yesterday that was praised by billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens (one of the financiers of the '04 Swift Boat campaign).

But none of that apparently matters to the "maverick," because yesterday McCain was still slinging the bull ("We're not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires"), while his aides merrily distributed little tire gauges emblazoned with the words "Obama Energy Plan," and while the credulous talk-show callers stormed the switchboards to fume about Obama's alleged naivete.

What fascinates me most, however, is how McCain and his Rove-trained minions manage to stay so disciplined, even though the mockery is so transparently manufactured. (This is why the Democrats are at a persistent disadvantage. They're afraid to get down and dirty, for fear of what The New York Times might think.)

In the oft-overlooked world of empirical reality, the notion that Americans can save lots of gasoline by responsibly inflating their tires is hardly deemed naive or feckless. What Obama said the other day has also been endorsed by:

George W. Bush's Department of Energy...Bush's Environmental Protection Agency...Bush's National Highway Transportation Safety Agency...Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who campaigned with McCain the other day....California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, in an appearance with Crist on June 25, talked about tune-ups and tire inflation, and said, "We all do have the power. Let's not wait for government."

But my favorite endorsers of Obama's advice are the effete naifs at NASCAR.

Actually, NASCAR got there two years ahead of Obama. NASCAR put this advice on its website two summers ago, when gas began to spike, and it's still up there: "With gas prices now hovering around $3, smart drivers care. Savvy consumers are seeking to increase fuel economy and the life of their tires by paying more attention to those rubber objects that are attached to their vehicle....the time is now for drivers to focus on simple things like proper tire pressure to maximize tire performance and increase fuel economy."

The Bush administration's DOE and EPA share a website dedicated to fuel conservation; right there on the home page, it says: "You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure." It also says that fully inflated tires, and a tuned-up car, can save a motorist 28 cents on every gallon.

Bush's NHTSA has determined that "every pound per square inch of tire underinflation wastes four million gallons of gas daily," and it estimated in a press release, way back in 2001, that the tires on 27 percent of American passenger cars are underinflated - thereby "reducing fuel efficiency." All told, at least according to a think-tank energy specialist contacted the other day by ABC News, an America that runs on inflated tires and tuned cars would yield a likely savings of 800,000 barrels of oil a day.

Would those savings be greater than the potential oil gush that might result (many years in the future) from new offshore drilling? It's hard to know, and Obama may well have slung the bull himself when he said last week that "we could save all the oil they're talking about getting (from) drilling" if everybody took care of their tires and tune-ups. The jury is out on that.

But the GOP's manufactured mockery of Obama trivializes a legitimate point - endorsed by Bush's own bureaucracy - about energy conservation, seeks to reduce Obama's energy plan to cartoonish shorthand, and cleverly exploits the belief (held by millions of Americans) that we should never be asked to take responsibility for anything, even the simple task of filling our tires and tuning our cars. Even now, any form of sacrifice, no matter how common sensical, is widely disdained as a Jimmy Carter concept.

And this is what August fakery is all about, and why Republicans tend to win.