I got back to San Francisco Friday night ,and Saturday morning's Chronicle Business section had a paired set of headlines that summed everything up neatly: "$6 Billion Profit at Chevron" next to "Jobless Rate Hits a 4 Year High."
Oil, expensive oil, and oil company profits are now the centerpiece of this year's politics. Recent polls show that most Americans think that our dependence on oil is the driving force in the collapse of the economy. And there couldn't be a sharper contrast in the way the two candidates are responding.
Congress went home last week, unable to act on energy legislation -- because the Senate Republican leadership literally decided to hold non-controversial energy solutions hostage to their monomania -- drill the coasts. It's almost as if John McCain is a modern version of Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman who ended every speech with "Carthage must be destroyed" regardless of what he'd just been talking about. For McCain, the new mantra is "Florida must be drilled."
In spite of a huge crisis facing low-income families this winter from the soaring price of heating oil, the Republican Senate leadership even held up approval of financial assistance for these folks. Because they had not been able to vote on drilling first, they filibustered a bill they claimed to support. McCain, once again, was AWOL. Last time I checked, he was still being paid to be a U.S. Senator, but he's simply unwilling to do the job because that would mean voting. And when his Republican colleagues in the Senate are blocking everything with a filibuster, not voting has the same legal impact as voting "No." So it's McCain, not Obama, who has become "Senator No."
When ten senators of both parties came up with a typical, wimpy Washington faux compromise -- allow drilling off the East and Gulf coasts, but make the oil industry return to the Treasury some of its ill-gotten subsidies, and invest more in renewables -- McCain came out against the proposal as unacceptable because it would reduce oil-industry subsidies.
The Sierra Club is on the air now with an ad pointing out McCain's utter fealty to big oil.
And this morning Obama fired back strongly, with a major speech in Michigan in which he made clear that only new approaches -- from one million plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015 to major investments in retrofitting buildings and developing renewable energy -- could create the 5 million new jobs that are one of the brightest promises of a new energy future.