Political culture mangles energy and ruins lives

Bob Tippee

Who in the oil and gas industry has never marveled at the ability of high-voltage politics in Washington, DC, to mangle energy issues?

An energy-hungry country gulls itself with fantasies about price-gouging and energy independence when its political culture craves power more than truth.

The distorting potential of this culture has been on ugly display recently in a controversy unrelated to energy.

Political reaction was shrill to the Mar. 6 conviction of I. Lewis Libby, former chief of staff of Vice-President Dick Cheney, for perjury and obstruction.

"It's about time someone in the Bush Administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after the verdict.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared, "The testimony unmistakably revealed—at the highest levels of the Bush Administration—a callous disregard in handling sensitive national security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in Iraq."

Politics is politics. But these statements are delusional.

Reid and Pelosi want to make the conviction serve prejudgment that Libby retaliated against Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson by telling reporters that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency. In this view, Libby's trial confirms suspicion—important to Democratic ambitions about the White House—that the administration tricked the US into an unpopular war with lies.

Facts from the trial refute the retaliation scenario. Partly because the supposedly retaliatory disclosure came from the State Department, Libby wasn't even charged with divulging CIA secrets, if there were any. He faced five counts of lying to leak investigators and was convicted on four.

He might simply have remembered trivial events of a busy past differently from journalists whom jurors found more persuasive—and faces prison because of it.

But a ruined life matters no more than relevancy does when Washington has a conviction that half-truths and lies can spin into political advantage.

When a culture in which this can happen takes up a subject like gasoline prices, it has no use for real market analysis, which lacks political potency. But price-gouging? Now there's something.

(Online Mar. 9, 2006; author's e-mail:

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