Energy debate lights up in Denver

While Hillary Clinton was preparing to hit it out of the park in Denver on Tuesday night, it was Montana Gov. Bill Schweitzer’s job to warm up the crowd. He did so in style, delivering a barnstorming speech that brought convention-goers to their feet - and showed his fellow Democrats how to score points on energy policy in the run-up to polling day.

It helped, of course, that Schweitzer is a fine orator, with the ducking-and-weaving stage presence and easy timing of a late-night comic. But the medium, in this case, mattered less than the message: Schweitzer drove home the Democratic energy policy talking points in a clear, accessible way, and in the process landed more than a couple of heavy punches to John McCain.


“We simply can't drill our way to energy independence, even if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, including the ones he can't even remember,” he said, to resounding applause. “That single-answer proposition is a dry well, and here's why: America consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, but has less than 3 percent of the reserves.”

Schweitzer’s attacks were a reminder that Democrats can go toe-to-toe with their rivals on energy policy and come away the winners. And other Dems have been landing blows, too. In his keynote address, former Virginia governor Mark Warner blasted Bush’s failure to prioritize energy independence as a fundamental failure of national security in the aftermath of 9/11. Harry Reid picked up the theme yesterday, saying that the history of the past century had been “a toxic mix of oil and war”. And John Kerry joined the party, telling conventioneers: “There is no way for America to be secure until we create clean energy here at home, not with a little more oil in five, 10, or 20 years, but with an energy revolution starting right now.”

That’s a powerful argument. Where Dems have really excelled, however, is in saying loudly and clearly that investing in clean energy will actually help lift America out of her current economic doldrums. Bill Clinton - who speaks from experience - made that point in his speech last night; Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius, meanwhile, pushed the idea that clean energy has the power to revitalize America’s heartlands and create green-collar jobs that will never be outsourced.

“The energy for tomorrow is there in the clean, renewable power of the steady winds that blow across our fields,” she said. “Investing in American energy will create 5 million green jobs - jobs that will revitalize many of our rural communities - jobs that can never be outsourced to a foreign supplier.”

Perhaps the most important point of all, though, came far from the main stage, at the Rocky Mountain Roundtable discussion of the new energy economy. Foreshadowing Bill Clinton’s declaration that Obama “is on the right side of history," Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts told the early-morning crowd that when it comes to energy policy, it’s Democrats who have history on their side.

Republicans may look like they own energy, Markey said, but it’s all fire and noise: technology, entrepreneurship, capital, and public policy are all moving, apparently inexorably, in the Democrats’ direction. That’s a message that Dems need to take to heart - and keep pushing at every chance they get. It could just be that American voters are ready to listen.

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