Portside: The era of political pandering is over

Remember when then-candidate Hillary Clinton staged a news conference at a gas station to call for a gas tax holiday for the summer driving months saving the average driver maybe $25 over three months?

Voters were clearly a lot smarter than she gave them credit for and saw through the self-serving gimmick. We deserve better than a cheap pander. We need a solution which will save us $25 a day, not a season.

More recently, New Hampshire’s lone Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Jeanne Shaheen, held her own news conference at gas stations in Portsmouth and Keene to call not for change, but instead for ways to revive the care-free days of cheap gas-guzzling.

She wants oil companies to increase production and build more refineries, release 30 million barrels from the strategic petroleum reserve (same as the Republicans), and lean on OPEC to increase production. So Shaheen’s approach is not change, just more of the same: over-consumption.

Like the gas tax holiday scheme, bogus tinkering with the supply does nothing. The only answer is to reduce demand.

Again, the people are way ahead on this one.

Enough of feel-good, do nothing Band-Aids. Our government must be a force to reduce petroleum demand. People are ready for that change.

Instead of calling for a windfall profits tax, with the money going to an investment fund for alternative energy development, we hear, “End tax breaks for Big Oil and create tax incentives for the development” of such energy. It may be subtle, but there’s a big difference, especially to the profits of the oil companies that have been dictating energy policy for too long.

As state senator and governor, Shaheen was widely appreciated for her reliable opposition to nuclear power, which remains absurdly expensive and unrealistic. Now I read in The Keene Sentinel: “Nuclear energy remains an option, too, Shaheen said.” What exactly is going on here?

Democrats need to defeat John Sununu. Obama is going to need all the Democrats he can get to bring the real change we hunger for. The time has passed for cautious, middle-of-the-road, same old-same old. A new approach to America’s energy future is required. American ingenuity is there, eagerly waiting to be put to use. More of the same is not the change we need.

Party insiders may become apoplectic and call me a heretic for offering constructive criticism of the Senate candidate. But I have to say, if they would just stop dishing out this tripe, I wouldn’t be forced to call them on it. And trust me, I am hardly alone on this.

So far, as we’ve seen before, the Shaheen campaign is playing it safe. But it is still early, the candidate has time to show some courage and leadership.

So far, could there be anything easier than to say, “Gas prices are too high”? Come on, we can do a lot better.

Pandering gets you nothing. Voters are ready for the truth. We need new policies that understand that cheap oil is a thing of the past. Clinging to the notion that we can return to those days is completely out of touch with reality. Instead we need an Apollo-like program developing real energy alternatives.

In the meantime, how about greater tax credits for hybrid vehicles? And why not consider regulating the oil companies as the public utilities they in fact are?

Now is hardly the time for timidity. The gas tax holiday was empty pandering that didn’t work. What works is the courage to forge a new path. There’s still time and I’m hopeful Shaheen will take the lead.

State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen now hosts a radio talk show.

Categories: Opinion