A wonderful parody of "My Darling Clementine" once made fun of how the Communist Party's leadership flip-flopped at a moment's notice to adhere to the party line as established in Moscow. Its refrain ran
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling party line.
Oh, I never will desert you
Cause I love this life of mine.
To the best of my knowledge, the Tea Party/Koch Oil caucus has not yet actually conducted purge trials complete with executions for Republicans who fail to adjust their positions with every shift of the political winds. But it's clear that the reactionary right is in the process of developing its own full-scale party line, with Fox News playing the role of Pravda. In fact, the current Republican Party leadership is beginning in many ways to behave like the old Communists, with a disciplined center and a bunch of factions splitting off at the extremes in the name of purity.
The most spectacular of these party line flip-flops of course, was over a no-fly zone in Libya. Gingrich and Fox were for it until Obama actually did it -- at which point they were against it. Gingrich went so far as to assert that he had never really been for it, he had just been dealing with the unavoidable problems creating by Obama publicly urging Qaddafi to go.
Gingrich is not alone. The two Republicans chairing the key foreign policy committee in the House -- Buck McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, also flip-flopped.
A broad swath of Republicans, led by Gingrich, have of course abandoned their previous commitments to action on global warming and support for cap-and-trade -- but these switches at least took place over the course of months, not weeks. It is virtually instantaneous flip-flopping in unison, combined with a remarkable capacity for saying that black is white, that is the real hallmark of a party-line-governed movement.
The most recent example is the issue of developing oil reserves on U.S. public lands. The official Republican party line on the topic of energy, if you haven't picked it up, is called "all of the above." This never truly meant "all" -- the Republicans are solidly opposed to any meaningful investment in energy efficiency, high-speed rail, wind, solar, and electric vehicles. The three big legs of the stool were coal, nuclear, and speeding up domestic U.S. oil production. In fact, immediate domestic oil production is the only suggestion that the Republicans have on the critical question of bringing down gas prices now.
Two weeks ago the Republicans launched their "American Energy Initiative," which was widely hailed as an effort to put themselves back on the offensive on gas prices. At its heart is the premise that we need to produce more oil and gas from America's public lands -- and that the Obama administration is standing in the way.
The administration responded by pointing out that oil production on public lands is up since Obama became president, not down. And then Greenwire released Bureau of Land Management data showing that the oil industry was sitting on most of the public land oil and gas leases it had accumulated in previous years, and had a backlog of 7,200 leases to develop, a five-year supply at the rate of new well drilling that occurred in 2010.
When Democrats in Congress urged that the oil industry should be required to use its leases, or else give them up to other oil companies that would drill them (a proposal called "use it or lose it"), the president ordered an investigation into why the leases were being shut in. (His administration has already supported charging the oil industry a fee for idle leases as a way of encouraging their development.)
The Republican party line promptly switched. Suddenly there is no urgency about actually drilling for oil on the public lands now -- although the absolute imperative to lease for the future remains. "We won't reduce our dependence on foreign oil if politicians in Washington remain dependent on hollow talking points like 'use it or lose it,'" House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "Americans are looking for real solutions and a sustained commitment to expanding American energy production that will lower gas prices and create more jobs, which is what our American Energy Initiative is all about."
The media have mostly failed to pick up on the fact that the new party line of the Republicans actually offers no solution to higher gas prices -- beyond blaming them on the Obama administration. And the media have failed to notice that the new Republican position -- lease public oil reserves that the oil industry has no intention of developing for years to come and allow them to keep them on the shelf -- simply strengthens the speculative ability of the oil industry to limit supplies of oil and raise prices. From the oil industry's perspective, of course, the price of oil is not too high -- and never will be. And the Koch brothers, who bankroll much of the Republican echo chamber, produce some of the highest-priced (and dirtiest) oil on the planet, from Canada's tar sands. So they definitely don't want competition from the sudden development of 7,200 domestic BLM oil leases. Koch also doesn't want BLM lease development to increase the demand for, and hence the rent of, the drilling rigs it is using in the Tar Sands.
So it's hardly surprising that the Republican party line has changed from "oil now" to "oil tomorrow." But it is amusing to watch.
Perhaps we need some new lyrics for "My Darling Party Line." Here's my first draft -- I invite other submissions. And stay tuned. Party lines keep changing -- it's their nature.
At Fox Network, in a newsroom
They are sipping Tea not wine,
As an oil man and Newt Gingrich
Fabricate our party line.
"We can drill here, we can drill now
And gas prices will plunge down
If Obama's regulators will
Just lease without a frown."
Whoops, a problem. In the tar sands,
Too much new oil means red ink
So we'll let domestic drillers
Lock up leases while we think.
Today's answer: "It's not drilling
Clean air and water are to blame.
If we shut down Lisa Jackson,
Then gas prices we will tame."