Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The return of Bill Richardson at Hofstra

Tonight McCain sounded like Bill Richardson, the worst debater in the Democratic field. You've got two minutes, and talking points on various loosely related issues keep tumbling into your mind, and you pack them all in without transition and without adequate context for each. Syntax is herky-jerky; sentences begin with one structure and switch to another, or trail off.

Obama speaks in paragraphs, the way your English teacher taught you to write: topic sentence, transitional sentences. Here's the problem, here's what our priority needs to be, here the steps to get there, a, b, c. Here's the cause of a problem, here's the effect, here's the solution. He's a teacher who lays it out, breaks it down, gets through his material.

Contrast the two on the question of energy independence:
Schieffer: ....Would each of you give us a number, a specific number of how much you believe we can reduce our foreign oil imports during your first term? And I believe the first question goes to you, Senator McCain.

SEN. MCCAIN: I believe we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil. Canadian oil is fine. By the way, when Senator Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadians said, yeah, and we'll sell our -- our oil to China. You don't tell countries you're going to unilaterally renegotiate agreements with them.

We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear power plants right away. We can store and we can reprocess. Senator Obama will tell you, in the -- as the extreme environmentalists do, it has to be safe.

Look, we've sailed Navy ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power plants on them. We can store and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, Senator Obama, no problem.

So the point is, with nuclear power, with wind, tides, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel, hybrid, clean coal technology. Clean coal technology is a key in the heartland of America that's hurting rather badly.

So I think we can easily, within 7, 8, 10 years, if we put our minds to it, we can eliminate our dependence on the places in the world that harm our national security, if we don't achieve our independence from them.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and by how much in the first term, your -- in four years?

SEN. OBAMA: I -- I think that in 10 years we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that's about a realistic time frame.

And -- and this is the most important issue that our future economy is going to face. Obviously, we've got an immediate crisis right now, but nothing's more important than us no longer borrowing $700 billion or more from China and sending it to Saudi Arabia. It's mortgaging our children's future.

Now, from the start of this campaign I've identified this as one of my top priorities, and here's what I think we have to do.

Number one, we do need to expand domestic production. And that means, for example, telling the oil companies the 68 million acres that they currently have leased that they're not drilling, use 'em or lose 'em. And I think that we should look at offshore drilling and implement it in a way that allows us to get some additional oil.

But understand, we only have 3 (percent) to 4 percent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's oil, which means that we can't drill our way out of the problem. And that's why I focused on putting resources into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal. These have been priorities of mine since I got to the Senate, and it is absolutely critical we -- that we develop a high- fuel-efficient car that's built not in Japan and not in South Korea, but built here in the United States of America.
We -- we invented the auto industry, and the fact that we have fallen so far behind is something that we have to work on.

Now, I just want to make one last point because Senator McCain mentioned NAFTA and the issue of trade, and that actually bears on this issue. I believe in free trade, but I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Senator McCain, the attitude's been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement. And NAFTA doesn't have -- did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements, and what I said was we should incluse (sic) those and make them enforceable in the same way that we should enforce rules against China manipulating its currency to make our exports more expensive and their exports to us cheaper. And when it comes to South Korea, we've got a trade agreement up right now -- they are sending hundreds of thousands of South Korean cars into the United States -- that's all good -- we can only get 4(,000 to 5,000 into South Korea. That is not free trade. We've got to have a president who is going to be advocating on behalf of American businesses and American workers, and I make no apology for that.
McCain's thinking is as herky-jerky as his syntax. Revisiting NAFTA will make the Canadians refuse to sell oil to the U.S.? We store nuclear waste from our submarines, so handling the waste from 45 new plants is no problem?

Obama reiterates McCain's laundry list of alternative energy sources, but he explains why drilling is not a priority. He brings in the auto industry because conservation is as important as new energy production (and to hrow a bone to autoworkers). And he tacks around in orderly fashion to deal with McCain's swipe at his trade position.

There's not much substance to this debate. How would each productively and cost-effectively support alternative energy research? How would they fund government investment? How would their cap-and-trade programs work? But the structure of their responses send signals about who would approach the problem analytically, who's data-driven, who would set priorities in accord with the facts. Any listener can sense the difference.

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