Sound Bytes Continue to Hinder Honest Debate about Energy, Manufacturing’s Comeback

As anyone who has read this blog the past few years will attest, I’m not a big fan of presidential election season. 

During a presidential campaign what little time and space we normally provide for honest an open debate in this country about things that matter get seemingly squeezed into nothingness by our suddenly all-consuming love affair with sound bytes and video ops. 

And yesterday proved to be no different; despite the fact that both candidates had an opportunity to address an issue that matters vitally to me as a businessman and a manufacturer, and should matter deeply to us as a country – low cost, dependable energy.

In Iowa, President Obama took a shot at Mitt Romney’s somewhat predictable, party-driven patronizing of potential difference-making alternative energy sources and their ongoing development by referencing a feeble joke Romney made about windmills on cars and by making one of his own about the time Romney, in utterly bizarre fashion, took a family trip with the family dog secured atop the family car.

Romney, meanwhile, in a speech to a bunch of coal miners and other coal industry workers, reduced the difference between his attitude toward energy and the President’s to his contention that the latter did not support any fuel sources that came from above the ground.

Really?  That’s what it’s come to?   Do you as a voter want your energy to come from above the ground, or below it?

Folks, the future of affordable energy, regardless of its source is of primary importance to this country.  Shouldn’t we demand that our candidates act accordingly?

Look, I know the far right has turned the dumbing-down of the decision-making process into an absolute science, reducing even the most complex issue into a black-and-white thing, or at least a right-and-wrong one. 

And I know too that a snappy retort or a witty comeback, however inane and regardless of which candidate says it, is far more likely to find its way onto your television or computer than a thoughtful and probing response.  But this is energy we’re talking about here, and this is an issue that is utterly vital to our ongoing comeback as a global manufacturing power. 

Doesn’t every source of energy come at some level of price and with some level of risk, and wouldn’t we be best served by having our candidates talk about the entire picture when it comes to each of them?  Wouldn’t we be best served if we just had the two people running for president admit the obvious; that neither stands for high fuel prices, too much foreign dependence or the demise of any one source of energy? 

Instead, why don’t use this time to try to divine answers rather than scoring cheap political points? 

Why, for example, don’t we use campaign season to talk about the destructive nature of many current coal mining tactics, the level of pollution inherent in the steady burning of coal, and what might be done to correct such things in the future? 

Why don’t we us it to talk about the environmental dangers and the risks to underground water caused by widespread fracking for an otherwise and relatively cheap energy source, natural gas, and what might address that problem?

What don’t we use these next few months to talk about the uncertainty of solar power and wind power, or the aging nature of many of our nuclear plants, and ways of making those almost limitless energy sources either safer or more reliable?

Why don’t we talk about what caused the BP oil spill in the Gulf a few years back and detail what the major oil companies have done since to prevent a second such spill?

And, heaven forbid, why don’t we talk about how certain energy sources make far greater sense in some parts of our country than they do in others – like solar power in the Southwest as opposed to the Northeast – and that maybe we should think about experimenting with and developing regional energy strategies?

Look, I understand politics.  And I understand the need to differentiate one candidate from the other.  But isn’t the issue of energy and its relative cost, availability and dependability to American industry far more important than that?  And doesn’t our need for answers about the very lifeblood of our economy far eclipse any one candidate’s right to a sound byte?

I don’t know about you, but as a guy with a bunch of machines to run every day, and a guy who needs affordable energy to continue to make his growing business work, it sure does for me.

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