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On Point

Are Californians Stupid?


by Austin Bay

But apparently California Gov. Gray Davis has a low opinion of his constituents' mental acuity, or at least their historical memory. He seems to think Golden State residents were hatched yesterday, producing a demographic ripe for a political con job replete with fear-inciting sound bites and calculated flim-flam.

In ecology-conscious California, Davis has hired two acid-spewing generators of political pollution and cultural degradation, Clinton hit men Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani. Expect scorched-earth press releases and sulfuric TV squawk show performances reminiscent of the Clinton administration's smoggiest, most dirt-bedeviled moments.

Yup, California's energy crunch has made Davis that most desperate of creatures, a politician who's seen his poll numbers drop around his neck like a noose. Lehane and Fabiani aren't energy experts, but addressing California's current energy issues in a responsible fashion or rationally assessing future energy requirements isn't their raison d'etre.

Lehane and Fabiani are experimental political scientists and California their Frankenstein lab of blackouts and sputtering, dim bulbs.

They're experimenting with the political pop of the "energy issue," and along with Davis hope Californians are dim bulbs. Congressional Democrats like Dick Gephardt pray the dim-bulb condition afflicts voters nationwide.

Lehane and Fabiani will also experiment with civil war, formulating a "California versus Texas" conflict with the Bush administration as Texas-in-Washington. Ultimately, Democrats want that civil war to become "U.S. versus Them-Texans."

With California's power woes and rising pump prices, the Clinton Democrats believe they've finally snagged an issue that zings President Bush and pulls the plug on Senate and House Republicans.

However, blaming the energy crunch on the 120-day old Bush administration is pretty damn farfetched.

Responsible Californians realize their legislature's "deregulation" was a phony form of deregulation that created a homemade trap. Capping retail prices while allowing wholesale prices to reflect market costs made short-run political sense but violated economic common sense.

Other decisions, both public sector and private, exacerbated California's mistakes. Relying on neighboring states to build power plants and provide steady power to meet California's growing demand was arrogant and myopic. Regulatory kowtows to environmental extremists (eco-religious fundamentalists is a more apt description) may have gotten California politicians hearty salutations at Sierra Club shindigs, but blackouts demonstrate the economic and social consequence of pandering to zealots.

Ironically, California's crunch could temporarily increase pollution, as blackout zones rely on soot-emitting diesel-powered backup generators.

To blame Bush also requires ignoring the destructive superficiality of the Clinton administration. Clinton's last-minute enviro-regs were of the same deceptive ilk as his last-minute pardons. For eight years, Clinton didn't lower arsenic levels. Clinton only spent 25 percent of what the Carter administration spent on energy R&D. Frankly, the Clinton administration had no energy policy. Well, it didn't have a foreign policy, either.

In contrast, the Bush administration has produced a thoughtful national approach to energy acquisition, energy planning and intelligent conservation. I used that 21st century tool of freedom, the Internet (a place empowered by many innovative Californians) and read the report of Bush's National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) at www.BushEnergy.com.

Check it out -- environmental concerns receive extensive treatment. Sure, Bush's approach has weaknesses and debatable assumptions -- what document drawn in Washington doesn't? (I have doubts about current "clean coal" technology, which Bush and Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd advocate.) However, unlike President Carter's pessimistic plan, Bush's NEPDG is technologically progressive and stoically optimistic.

Does it spur carbon fuel production? Sure, our economy runs on fossil fuels, but the report anticipates a future when it will be less dependent. You want to protect our environment? Promote clean technology, like hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. You want polluters to pay the true costs of production? Emissions trading credits may give "clean" businesses an economic edge. Is our electric distribution grid inadequate? Yes, it's a problem that took neglect-filled years to evolve and will take leadership to fix.

Bush's plan involves political risk. Since it doesn't propose quick-fixes or bailouts, it won't stop summer blackouts in California, hence an opening for Gray Davis agitprop.

The NEPDG attempts to consider economic and environmental costs, as well as energy's national security implications. That's tough to do. So credit Bush for making the effort, and exhibiting a quality blacked-out in the White House for eight years: gutsy leadership.

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