This election year has seen U.S. energy policy and the debate on global warming (does it exist, if it does who/what is responsible, and what we should do about it) get quite a bit of airtime, but from a distinctly 2012 tack.
Both issues have traditionally been favorites of both parties’ respective bases; the Democratic base consistently tries to make the Party focus on tackling global warming and getting America off of fossil fuels immediately. They see their ideological counterparts as representing scientific and political ignorance in general with respect to issues regarding energy and the environment, in addition to merely supporting fossil fuel special interests in the private energy sector. The Republican base, on the other hand, is rigidly opposed to the idea that any global warming trend either exists or is the result of mankind’s activities and so they advocate for getting off of fossil fuels whenever the free market deems it to be expedient. The Republican base considers the Democrat base to be primarily motivated by the desire to use the environment issue to undermine American sovereignty by strengthening international bodies (i.e., the U.N.) as part of a planned global effort to address the issue of climate change.
And so, being an election year, both candidates have had to do what they always must: throw bones to their base while simultaneously making a centrist appeal to moderates and independents.
For example, Mitt Romney makes domestic energy a focus of his campaign by constantly reiterating his plan to increase American energy independence, primarily through expansion of the fossil fuel sector, as part of a larger job growth strategy. National energy independence has been on the Republican base’s wish list for years, and the recent booms in natural gas and tar sands oil are enough to excite the conservative base in that it now might actually be an achievable goal; the centrist appeal in this comes from the plan’s focus on fossil fuels as a way to pragmatically create private sector jobs.
Barack Obama argues that reduced usage of fossil fuels is an imperative national interest, and so he advocates giving government assistance and subsidies to the renewable energy sector in order to help it compete with the more well-established fossil fuel industry. His support for green energy comes directly from the Democratic base’s feverish concern over global warming, but naturally his message has been moderated, as he argues that global warming is a real threat and cannot be ignored but that we can continue to rely on fossil fuels for the short term – a policy that is viewed favorably by the middle who believe in global warming.
The necessity of securing moderate votes amid this troubled economy has lead to the discussion of global warming specifically to be severely limited; neither candidate wants to discuss the issue in great detail for fear of looking like an ideologue. Obama only very briefly referred to global warming in his DNC speech, toughly stating that it “is not a hoax” but rather “a threat to our children’s future”. In a similar way, Romney largely avoids talking about global warming, preferring to focus on the economics of the energy debate as he did in the most recent debate where he criticized Obama for spending “$90 billion” frivolously on the green industry in the stimulus bill.
On this issue, the obligatory base pandering would appear to be telepathic, with both the conservative and liberal bases simply assuming their candidate’s views. The bases understand that this is not an issue of great concern in this election and so on the whole they are willing, if only grudgingly, to let their candidate appeal to the center (of course, with the sly knowledge of their real views and desired policies).