09/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Auguries, Magic Spells, and Some Early Returns

Johnson City, TN --This year's campaign is beginning to resemble the last days of the Roman Republic. During the past week, rightwing politicians who normally worship at the altar of infallible markets (when not reminding us that they are good Christians) have been busy casting the entrails and practicing various forms of divination instead. They have been handing out tire-gauge amulets to ridicule the idea that keeping our tires inflated will help bring down the price of oil. They are right -- proper tire inflation is an utterly inadequate response -- it would save only three percent of the gas we burn.

For most of us, this makes their own solution -- drilling off the coast, which would yield only one percent of our oil consumption -- even more ludicrous. But that's only because we continue to believe that three is bigger than one. If you cast the auguries right, as the Romans did, perhaps the McCain campaign is right -- one is now bigger than three.

Then there is the promise that the future could change the past. Not possible, said Omar Khayyam -- "the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." But the Oil Republicans assure us that we can bring down the price of gasoline this year not by anything we do now but by bringing in new oil fields in 2030. And McCain says that by the mere act of announcing that an area is open to leasing, oil will immediately begin flowing -- as if at the moment Exxon is allowed to strike the earth with a magic wand a gusher will erupt (an environmentally sensitive gusher of course).

And finally there is the power of magic spells. For the past several days, about thirty House Republicans have been sitting in the darkened chambers of the U.S. Capitol (Congress is in recess) demanding that the Democrats agreed to open environmentally sensitive areas on the coast to drilling. "Drill now! Drill here!" their voices have echoed across the old Caucus Chamber of the Capitol. This week they claimed that their incantations had actually been responsible for bringing down the price of oil!  "I think the market is responding to the fact that we are here talking," said Arizona Congressman John Shadegg.

Well, if this is true, I am delighted. There is absolutely no environmental harm in thirty aging, white, largely male members of Congress sitting in the dark and muttering to each other, "drill, drill, drill." If that can lower the price of oil by last week's ten percent, then it is considerably more effective, much quicker, and vastly safer and cheaper than actually drilling -- it's definitely less boring than inflating tires! If this really works, then I think it is the patriotic duty of these members of Congress to remain constantly on duty in the Capitol, like vestal virgins, preserving America from high oil prices.

In bipartisan fairness, however, perhaps we should demand that Democratic members of Congress sit in their own part of the Capitol -- perhaps the Rayburn room -- chanting "Cool! Cool! Cool!" to stop global warming. Al Gore, of course, has been doing this for some time -- but perhaps these spells only work when muttered inside the sacred precincts of the Capitol, in unison, and when no one is listening.

But voters, it appears, are a tad skeptical. One of the chanters in the Republican caucus was Tennessee Representative David Davis. Davis was spending his time in the Capitol, when perhaps he should have been back home in Johnson City, Tennessee, campaigning. Because Tuesday he was upset by his Republican opponent, Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe, who blasted Davis for being a tool of big oil.

Roe specifically went after Davis for his advocacy of drilling, and for taking campaign contributions from Big Oil. If you'd like to see the first campaign ad on energy issues to decide an election this year, take a look. 

Perhaps the pundits who are claiming that the voters want candidates who pander to the oil industry should take a close look at this race. After all, the last time a sitting Congressman in Tennessee lost a primary was back in 1966.


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