It's hard to convey how depressing it is to return from ten days away and find that the Big Story in politics involves tire gauges. So let's march through the facts. Obama said this a few days ago:
"There are things you can do individually, though, to save energy. Making sure your tires are properly inflated -- simple thing -- but we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much."
To which McCain replied:
"“He suggested we put air in our tires to save on gas,” Mr. McCain said. “My friends, let’s do that, but do you think that’s enough to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? I don’t think so."
I don't think inflating your tires is enough to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil either. And if Obama had said that it was, I'd be right out there criticizing him. But that's not what he said at all. Likewise, if inflating tires was in fact the whole of Obama's Energy Plan, he'd be nuts. But it isn't, any more than it's true that "Senator Obama's solution to high gas prices is telling Americans to make sure their tires are inflated." And saying that Obama "thinks we can inflate our way out of [a supply crisis]", or that "properly inflated tires will almost completely solve our automobile energy crisis", does not make it so.
So: is it true that we can save as much oil by inflating our tires and getting regular tuneups as "they're talking about getting off drilling"? Yes. I assume that Obama is comparing the oil saved by inflating tires and getting tuneups to the amount of oil we could get by drilling offshore in currently restricted areas. I haven't been able to find a transcript or a video of the context of his remarks (if anyone can find one, let me know), but it seems logical to assume that the "they" who are "talking about getting" oil from drilling are the McCain campaign, and that Obama is referring to the proposal McCain has been hammering at every opportunity.
ABC's Jake Tapper has consulted the Director of CSIS, who estimates that inflating tires and getting tuneups could save around 800,000 barrels of oil a day. For some reason, he compares this to current output from offshore drilling, not to the projected gains from lifting restrictions on offshore drilling. Luckily, the government's Energy Information Administration has estimates on the effects of lifting those restrictions: it would raise domestic oil production by 1.6% over the years 2012-2030, and by 3% in 2030. Doing the math using their figures, the highest level of additional oil that lifting offshore drilling would produce would be a little over 200,000 barrels per day (in 2025-2028.)
Last time I checked, 800,000 was greater than 200,000. Moreover, we could achieve those gains now, while lifting the limits on offshore drilling wouldn't produce any new oil for a decade.
McCain could not have made an issue out of this without misrepresenting Obama's position and saying that he thinks that inflating your tires, all by itself, will solve the problem of high gas prices, or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. Had he stuck to what Obama said, he would have been in the ludicrous position of criticizing a pretty anodyne suggestion about energy conservation, and one that all sorts of people besides Obama have made. So he chose to lie.
When politicians lie about what their opponents say, they degrade our democracy and disrespect voters. If they were to represent their opponents accurately -- if we knew that while they might not present all the arguments in favor of their opponents' positions, they would not lie about them -- then we could simply listen to both candidates and make up our minds on the merits. A candidate who lies about his opponent's position is not willing to let us do that. Instead, he puts us in the position of having to go prowling around on the web if we want to have any idea whether or not what he says is true.
When the McCain campaign says that "Senator Obama's solution to high gas prices is telling Americans to make sure their tires are inflated", and when McCain himself suggests that Obama thinks that inflating tires is "enough to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil", it's as though they were saying: we are going to adopt a strategy that will force you, the voters, to spend hours of your lives checking each and every one of our statements for accuracy. We have no respect for the value of your time. Nor do we respect your intellect or your civic engagement: if we did, we wouldn't adopt a strategy that can only work if voters are too apathetic to notice that what we're saying is false. If you don't like it -- if you have better things to do with your lives than to fact-check our every utterance -- then that's just too bad.
It's a curious strategy for someone who claims to put country first, and to care about honor.